Well, it’s official. Barring something truly miraculous, Lionel Messi has played his last match for Barcelona. After months of rumors, interviews, and Twitch streams, the Argentine announced that he is signing for David Beckham’s MLS franchise, Inter Miami, and so his days in Europe are effectively over.
Having finally lifted that elusive World Cup trophy in December, Messi has conquered every peak in football, and even though he didn’t get his fitting “Last Dance” with Barca, he can start his new life in Miami with his head held high. The same cannot be said of his former club, though.
Messi explained very clearly in his recent interview that returning home was his first choice. After all, his unceremonious exit back in 2021 was not the farewell he wanted or indeed deserved. His illustrious Barcelona career warranted a proper celebration, with a sold-out Camp Nou chanting his name one last time. Instead, he got to give a tearful statement to his team-mates and the press.
Then, two years later, everything seemed set for his return—for the club to rectify its initial mistake—but again, it collapsed. The obvious explanation for why he had to leave, and also why he couldn’t come back, is Barca’s continuously dreadful financial situation; there wasn’t even enough money to register young Gavi as a first-team player this season. However, if we dig deeper into the root of these issues, the result becomes even more eye-opening.
Of course, the man most directly responsible for this catastrophe is former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, someone who, through a combination of vanity and ineptitude, left Barcelona in an economic ruin that will take years to recover from.
Hiring manager after manager with no real gameplan besides “pass to Messi and get out of his way,” signing incredibly overpriced players with zero foresight, and even going so low as to hire journalists to blast important Barca players in the press (the infamous “Barcagate” scandal) are all examples of how Bartomeu disgraced and nearly destroyed this club. But as the Champions League humiliations mounted, so did the pressure, and he finally resigned.
After an emergency board was put in place for a few months to prepare for a proper election, Joan Laporta, a man who is as enigmatic as he is charismatic, won in a landslide, returning to Barca having previously presided over some of its golden years.
During much of the presidential campaign, the most important storyline aside from the financial trouble was ensuring the continuity of their captain, who had attempted to leave respectfully in 2020 only to see Bartomeu slam the door in his face.
Laporta based much of his platform on the promise that he could convince the impending free agent Messi to renew his contract due to their very strong relationship. I’m sure we all remember the video of him hugging the mannequin with Messi’s jersey on it, a form of personal plea to the best player in the world.
His campaign worked exactly as he had desired, with Messi himself even showing up to vote on election day in what was a very public display of support, one that filled Barcelona fans’ hearts with hope and anticipation.
By the time the summer arrived, all parties involved had agreed on a contract extension when, in a sudden shock to the entire football world, Laporta announced out of nowhere that La Liga would not allow the club to register Messi’s new deal and that he would therefore be leaving Barca effective immediately.
The president explained that no player was bigger than the club and that he refused to compromise its future by signing away its TV rights in exchange for a short-term cash infusion (which he later did anyway, disguised as “economic levers”). There is nothing wrong with what he said in theory, but in practice, his comments served to paint Messi in a more negative light while absolving Laporta of any blame.
He even said that he had been holding out hope that Messi would just play for free, but the 35-year-old was never even asked to do this, nor should he have been; it would’ve been a ridiculous request. Nonetheless, by saying this, he put Messi right back in the spotlight, planting the idea in the fans’ minds that he could’ve done more in order to stay when that was never really the case.
By doing so, he diverted public attention from the fact that he had failed to deliver on his promise to the Barcelona fanbase (distracting the fans from his own failures by shifting blame onto key players, sound familiar?) Of course, he was far more subtle and not nearly as destructive as Bartomeu, but the comparison is still worthwhile.
Laporta is a man of the people; he’s the type of president who celebrates in the locker room with the players and gets the Camp Nou on its feet. But above all, he is an excellent politician, and what do all politicians have in common? They always attempt to control the narrative, and Laporta is no exception.
As if that wasn’t enough, two years later he led another crusade for Messi’s return and once again sold fans the dream of a proper “Last Dance”, this time playing under his good friend and former team-mate Xavi. For weeks, the Camp Nou chanted his name in the 10th minute of every match, and as his relationship with PSG soured, a move back home grew ever closer.
Despite the financial issues, Barcelona’s viability plan (with Messi’s signing included) was even approved by La Liga, but only on the condition that they raise about €50 million in funds. Therefore, Laporta could not submit a formal offer with any guarantees because, as things stand, they would once again be unable to register Messi.
In his statement announcing the move to Miami, the Argentine said he didn’t want to leave his future in the hands of other people again; he wanted to make the decision on his own terms. But the truth is, he made this announcement on June 7th, nearly a month before the transfer window even began. He could’ve certainly waited a week or two to see if Barca could, in fact, raise the funds without facing any real repercussions.
At the end of the day, his decision came down to a matter of trust. Messi had blindly put his faith in Laporta two years prior and refused to make the same mistake twice. So when he said he didn’t want to have his future controlled by others, what he very likely meant was that he didn’t want to have his future in Laporta’s hands again, a man who had already taken away his dream once before. Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on me.
Additionally, Messi said he didn’t want to be responsible for the club forcefully selling his team-mates or reducing their salaries. As his ex-Argentina team-mate Carlos Tevez put it, he was tired of being the bad guy in the movie.
Bartomeu made him out to be a power-hungry dictator and a villain for years, and Laporta in many ways used him to boost his own image before casting him aside. While there were surely multiple reasons for his choosing Miami, it is hard to believe that if his relationship with Laporta hadn’t broken down the way it did—if the events of two years ago hadn’t occurred—he wouldn’t have been inclined to at least give the club the benefit of the doubt and stay put for a few weeks.
Of course, Laporta has done a great job of bringing Barca back from the brink of bankruptcy and actually competing for titles again. He’s brought Xavi home, made some shrewd acquisitions in the transfer market, and restored the club’s faith in La Masia. He certainly deserves a share of the credit for the Blaugrana’s monumental La Liga triumph this season. And in some ways, this situation can be considered a win-win.
Now, Barca isn’t forced to sell players like Ansu Fati, Franck Kessie or Ferran Torres at desperately cut-price fees. The salary that would’ve gone to Messi can also be used to recruit younger players that will be around for longer (none of them will be as good as Messi, but still). Xavi and Laporta can now firmly focus on shaping Barcelona’s new era and not look back. And as for Messi, he can peacefully wind down his playing career in a more relaxed setting that might just enable his participation in a certain competition come 2026.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to escape the fact that Barcelona owes a debt to Messi that they couldn’t atone for. It is even harder to reconcile with the fact that as much as we fans wanted Messi to return, he wanted it even more, and Laporta, for the second time, failed to grant him his wish.
The president was absolutely correct two years ago when he said that no player is bigger than the club. But this unfortunate, rather unjust treatment of its greatest ever player, especially having spent over €150 million on new signings last season, is a disservice to himself, the fans, and truly everything that Barcelona stands for.