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Barcelona was Lionel Messi’s preferred option from all the offers he had on the table and Barcelona senior sources were desperate to get him back. But like every team that wanted to sign Messi — and any transfer Barcelona have wanted to do over the past two summers — it was not that simple.

He has now moved to Major League Soccer side Inter Miami instead.

“I had offers from another European team, but I didn’t even consider it because my idea in Europe was only to return to Barcelona,” Messi said in an interview with Sport and Mundo Deportivo. “After winning the World Cup and not being able to join Barcelona, it was time to go to MLS and live football from another perspective, enjoying more my daily life. Obviously, I’ll have the same responsibility on my job and desire to win everything and doing things right. But being more calm.”

Last week, Barcelona sources, who were granted anonymity as they did not have permission to discuss this transfer, indicated it would be very difficult to complete a deal for Messi. Barcelona could not, as it stood, offer Messi guarantees that he would be registered with the club.

This has been an ongoing issue for Barcelona. La Liga has rules around salary caps. If a team goes over their allotted amount — which is based on financial performance in recent seasons — they are unable to register a player and therefore unable to use them in the league. It does not matter if they are able to pay them or not.

This was the issue when Messi first left Barcelona in 2021. He had agreed a new contract but because of the salary cap rule they were unable to register him — and therefore he had to leave. He ended up joining Paris Saint-Germain.

It did not end with Messi’s exit. Last summer, Barcelona signed Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen and Jules Kounde. Lewandowski, Kessie, Christensen and Raphinha were only registered in the days before the season began after Barcelona activated a series of ‘economic levers’. Kounde was registered just before the window closed.

La Liga has recently approved Barcelona’s viability plan for next season but with some conditions. They are still above their salary limit. In order to keep reducing the limit, La Liga will only allow Barcelona to spend 40 per cent of any money they raise through sales and loans on new signings. For example, if they sell a player who reduces their salary bill by €100million, they would be able to register a player with a €40m salary.

The viability plan being approved means they can now register new contracts for Gavi, Ronald Araujo, Sergi Roberto and Marcos Alonso. It also means they can confirm the arrival of defender Inigo Martinez from Athletic Bilbao.

Barcelona, therefore, had to find further capacity to sign Messi. And they had very little time to do so.

Messi had already verbally agreed with the club that he would have a salary of approximately €25m (£21m) a year. This means they would have needed to free up around £70m in salaries to register him.

That’s a lot for Barcelona to do at speed and Messi clearly wanted to make a swift decision about his future. Barcelona would have struggled to close big sales like that in the near future, as head coach Xavi has not even spoken to the players he’d like to leave. Ferran Torres, Franck Kessie and Ansu Fati could be among those players.

After returning from their friendly in Japan, Xavi essentially told the players he would see them on July 10 when pre-season begins. While conversations are still expected to happen sooner rather than later, they were not soon enough to influence Messi’s decision.

The only way Barcelona would have been able to complete a deal for Messi is if he had decided to wait for them. This would have given them the time to sell the players they need to. Xavi essentially said this in recent interviews when he pointed out that Messi had “99 per cent of the power”. This did not impress people close to Messi, who thought it added pressure to a situation the player was growing tired over.

There was serious risk involved in waiting for Messi. His last experience of dealing with Barcelona served as a severe warning and reduced his trust levels with the club. The trauma from that would leave him with little confidence they would be able to do that.

Just two years ago, Barcelona only told him at the last minute he would have to leave as they could not register him. In a mirror-image of those events, a crucial meeting between Laporta and Jorge Messi took place just before Barcelona landed in Japan for Tuesday’s friendly against Vissel Kobe.

A source close to Messi, who has been kept anonymous as they did not have permission to speak about this decision, said: “If in 2021 the relationship (between Barcelona and) La Liga looked more or less fine and, eventually, they kicked us out; what can we expect now when their relationships are going through, reportedly, a rough patch?”

Messi said last night: “I wanted to come back, but at the same time with the way I left the club, I did not want to find myself in the same situation, which was waiting for whatever can happen and leave my future to someone else’s hands.”

There was also another concern for Messi. Barcelona are already executing cost-cutting actions within the club in order to fight against their financial problems. Regular employees from several departments at Barcelona were concerned about their job security, while the club have also planned a 15 per cent cut across the other sports they play — which include basketball, handball, hockey and futsal.

Messi’s camp highlighted over the past few weeks how unpleasant it would be to have his name tied to this. He has a special relationship with Barca TV, the club’s in-house network which is going to shut down in the summer. Barca TV recorded his first clips playing for Barcelona as a youngster and his first interviews. He has had good relationships with Barca TV employees over the years.

“I heard Barcelona had to sell players or make pay cuts and the truth is I didn’t wanna go through that or feel responsible about something like this,” he said in confirming his move to Miami.

Due to all of his concerns, Messi’s camp has now moved quickly to sort out his future with guarantees, less than a week after his exit from Paris Saint-Germain was first made clear.

This might seem odd, given president Joan Laporta and Messi’s father, Jorge, met on Monday. It now looks as though it was partly a desperate attempt for a last-minute solution but also a matter of optics. It’s a good look for Barcelona if they make it seem like they put in every effort to make a deal happen, even if it was impossible. It also makes it clear to the world — at least on the surface — that the Messi family love Barcelona and how keen the player was to return to his footballing ‘home’.

Instead, he will now move to Inter Miami and play in MLS, following in the footsteps of other greats like Pele and David Beckham in moving to the United States.

While Messi will not make an emotional return to Barcelona this summer, it is clearly not for a lack of desire or trying on either part. His future has ultimately come down to Barcelona’s finances and La Liga rules — much like his exit in 2021.

(Top photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)



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