The Camp Nou No10 is now the Parc des Princes No30 after his summer switch
President van Barcelona Joan Laporta has acknowledged that he retained one final hope to keep Lionel Messi at the club before he left for Paris Saint Germain: that the Argentina superstar would offer to stay and play for free.
The 34-year-old departed Catalunya and LaLiga in the summer having spent his entire senior career at the Camp Nou, after the financial disaster that Barcelona have become could no longer afford his wages or even to register him as a new player once they had allowed his contract to run out.
Messi was among the players in the Barca squad to take a 70 per cent pay cut in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic forced cutbacks, though that was a temporary measure ensuring non-playing staff kept their jobs and the club could cope with no football being played.
Before his summer departure he had already offered to take a huge, and more permanent, reduction in salary to renew terms – 50 per cent compared to the deal he had been on just a few weeks earlier.
Selfs so, Barcelona’s dire state of affairs made it an impossible deal to agree, leading Laporta to simply hope an offer would be there to play without payment – and the president suspects the “pressure” of already having a big offer on the table from PSG played a part in how Messi eventually moved.
“I know he had an enormous desire to stay, but also a lot of pressure for the offer he had,” Laporta told RAC1.
“Everything suggests that he already had the offer from PSG. The whole world knew that he had a big offer. We knew from Messi’s side that they had a really good offer.
“At no time do I think about going back. I think I’m doing the best for Barca. Nobody can put the institution at risk.
“Ja, I had the hope that at the last minute Messi would say that he would play for free. I would have loved that and it would have convinced me. I understand that La Liga would have accepted it. But we cannot ask that of a player at his level.”
Since Messi’s departure – along with Antoine Griezmann, Emerson Royal, Junior Firpo and a handful of others – the Catalan club have struggled enormously this season.
Ronald Koeman’s side are ninth in the table and have lost both of their Champions League games so far.