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. Section One: The Legal Battle
Before there was the Isco Disco™, the seemingly perennial (and at times bi-annual) links to Real Madrid’s talented attacking midfielder – before there were transfer sagas that eventually resulted in the sale of high profile stars like Leroy Sané, or being spurned by the likes Dani Alves, Alexis Sánchez, or Jorginho – there were the links to Lionel Messi.
Dating back to 2011 when it was reported that City’s bosses had met with Lionel Messi’s entourage to ascertain the diminutive superstar’s intentions in light of news that Barcelona were trying to sign then-emerging Brazilian talent Neymar, rumors linking the Barcelona star to City have been injected into the news cycle like a steady drip from an IV. The links would continue over the decade, with City officials taking each chance they were given to impress the Argentinian, both on the pitch and off it.
Speculation that Messi could actually join City reached it’s zenith during the first half of 2016 when it was announced that his former Manager, Pep Guardiola, would be joining the Manchester club. That his arrival happened to coincide with Messi entering the final 12 months of his contract at the Camp Nou, speculation reached new levels. Though there were many who wondered aloud if circumstances may be ripe for a move, in the end no formal approach was made. City embarked on an expensive and extensive rebuilding project for their new star manager, one that was largely built on the backs of precocious young talents like Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, and Gabriel Jesus, along with a cohort of tenured City stalwarts like Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho, Vincent Kompany, and David Silva.
With the 2016 summer window coming having come to a close with no formal approach having been made, Messi put pen to paper on a new four year extension with the only club he’s ever known. In doing so he set a new standard for himself financially, earning a compensation package that’s worth anywhere between €45m and €100m a year depending on which source you choose to trust. In turn the club gained the safety of an untouchable €700m release clause. Also inserted into that contract was a little thought of termination clause that would allow Messi to void the final year of his contract should he choose to do so. But it would be that clause, one few expected he would ever trigger after a lifetime at the club, in combination with the emergence of global health pandemic that would set the stage for one of the most stunning transfer sagas of the century.
If the journey to reach this day has been long, and the path winding, the process of actually signing Messi is likely to be even more complex. So while this will be a meandering article that will cover many topics – from contract law, to FIFA rules, to finance, it’s perhaps best to start at the beginning. What About His Release Clause?
On August 25th a Burofax arrived at the offices of Barcelona Football Club containing official, legal notice of Messi’s intent to activate the termination clause in his contract and become a free agent. It’s this clause, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic upon that clause, that lie at the heart of all the difficulties that have followed.
Only a few people are privy to the exact terms of Messi’s contract, but it has been widely reported that his contract contained a termination clause that would allow him to void the final season of his deal as long as he provided notice of his intention to do so prior to June 10th. Under normal circumstances that date would’ve allowed him somewhere between two and four weeks from the completion of the season to serve notice that he would be leaving. However, due to league shut-downs brought about by the pandemic, Messi’s season didn’t end until August 14th, by which point his termination clause had long since expired. As a result Messi’s future has been left in limbo, with the outcome hinging upon complex and sometimes competing legalities, financial difficulties, and a healthy dose of hubris.
While the player’s camp will continue to try and make the argument that his clause should be honored due to extenuating circumstances, Barcelona is certainly under no obligation to do so and Joesp Bartomeu, President of Barcelona, is plainly in no mood to to do. He is in fact in no mood to allow Messi to leave under any circumstances other than the complete fulfillment of his €700m release clause. Could City Trigger His Release Clause?
Though there were reports circulating that the €700m release clause built into Messi’s contract had somehow expired at the end of this season, those reports have been shown to be false. On it’s face, the reports made little sense, as all players in Spain are required to have a release clause, so the idea that he suddenly did not never didn’t add up.
The reports led to La Liga taking the highly unusual step of publicly and officially declaring that Messi is still very much bound to Barcelona, and that his release clause is still very much in force. Again, operating under the assumption that Messi does indeed have a release clause (as he is legally obligated to) and that La Liga hasn’t foolishly exposed themselves to a lawsuit for falsely disseminating details of his contract in an official and public capacity, that would mean that the one guaranteed way for City to move the transfer forward would be to pay his release clause.
For obvious reasons paying €700m for a transfer fee alone would be extremely challenging under the existing Financial Fair Play frameworks. While clubs have the ability to amortize the costs of a transfer fee over the duration of a player’s contract, that would still leave City on the hook for €140m a year in expenses over the next five years (should they sign Messi to a five year contract) for the fee alone, before accounting for any potential salary. The numbers only get more challenging if the contract is for the two years that’re being reported. In that case City would have an FFP hit of €350m per year for the next two years just for the transfer fee.
Assuming a salary in in the range of €60m per year, that would leave City shouldering a FFP hit of somewhere between €200m and €410m per year. The first number would be extraordinarily challenging, the latter, likely impossible.
Given the financial difficulties associated with triggering his release clause, and Barcelona’s – or at least Bartomeu’s – stance that they will not agree to sell Messi for a lesser fee, that leaves all parties looking at what would likely be a protracted legal battle. Could Messi Secure His Exit Through The Courts?
That, in many ways, is the million dollar question. While Messi and his attorneys will argue that extenuating circumstances should allow him to have the June 10th deadline in his contract extended to reflect the date when the season actually
ended, it’s hardly a certainty that the Spanish legal system will allow this.
Thanks to excellent reporting work done by a team of writers at The Athletic, including City correspondent Sam Lee amongst many others, we know that under Spanish law deference is always given to the specific date when a question of interpretation arises in contracts. Plainly, that means that Messi and his team would have an uphill battle on their hands to show that his option to terminate his contract should be honored more than two months after it actually expired.
The one saving grace they may have is if there was what is known as a ‘force-majeure’ subclause attached to his void-option. Force-majeure is a fairly common clause to see written into contracts that protects one or both parties from harm due to unforeseeable, and catastrophic events (the term literally means, ‘force of nature.)’ In the event that there is such a clause, it would give Messi’s legal team a fighting chance. They’d still need to successfully argue that the Coronavirus pandemic qualifies as such an unforeseeable and devastating act, and they may very well do so successfully, but it’s far from a sure thing. If there is no such clause, the odds of success are likely stacked firmly in Barcelona’s favor.
There is, of course, another problem with needing to go to the court: legal proceedings take time. Sometimes a lot of time. Even under a best-case scenario (from Messi’s perspective) it’s likely that any legal battle would last months, taking both the player and any interested parties well beyond the transfer deadline of October 5th. If Messi Believes His Contract Is Void, Could He Just Sign For Whomever He Wants?
Let’s call this the, “going rogue” option. As I’ve discussed above, Messi is in a sub-optimal position from a legal perspective, but if he’s really of the opinion that his contract is indeed void, could he just sign for City – or whomever else he wanted to – anyway?
In short: yes, he could… But both Messi and the acquiring club would be subject to an Article 17 Breach, and Barcelona would then be in an extremely strong position to bring a lawsuit for breach of contract, holding Messi liable for (at least) the full amount of his €700m release clause, plus whatever material damages that Barcelona feels it might incur as a loss of his services. That amount could, at least theoretically, be even greater than the €700m from his release clause, depending on what types of de-escalation clauses are (or are not) tied to Barcelona’s various marketing contracts.
Unfortunately, In order to understand the second part of those potential liabilities we have to delve into the realm of hypotheticals.
For example: Barcelona is reported to receive somewhere between €140m and €155m a year from Nike as their primary kit sponsor. If there is a clause in that contact that would trigger a decrease in that payment should Messi leave (as is likely to be the case) to, say, €100m a year, Messi could be held legally liable for the €40m-€55m loss Barcelona were to incur.
Again, and I cannot stress this enough, that’s a hypothetical scenario, but it’s likely that Nike would demand language to that effect before signing the biggest kit contact in history. There may be no such clause, or it may be for a smaller – or larger – number. No one besides the interested parties knows.
Furthermore, should the loss of Messi lead to a devaluation of the club by the lenders currently financing the club’s debt of approximately €1.3b, that could trigger escalator clauses that could increase their interests rates on those loans. Again, the club would have a strong legal position to argue that Messi is liable for those increased expenses.
These may all be hypotheticals – we don’t know what clauses (if any) are attached to Barcelona’s sponsorship agreements, and if so, how much they would cost Barcelona should Messi leave during this window. But there are almost certainly a bevy of material damages Messi could be held liable for, and those – along with the €700m release clause – would constitute the better part of a billion Euros.
The odds that Messi is bold enough to throw caution to the wind to simply sign with whomever he wants without being absolutely certain that his contract with Barcelona either is, or will be voided would be suicidally foolish, and as such it’s highly unlikely to happen.
Additionally – as if there weren’t enough reasons to avoid going rouge – if Messi were to sign for another club without being absolutely certain his contract was indeed voided and FIFA were to review the case and side with Barcelona – which seems unlikely given their stated guidelines on contracts as it pertains to contracts and Covid-19 (more on this in a moment) – Barcelona or FIFA could file an Article 17 complaint. Article 17 of FIFA’s Transfer Regulations states
that in the event that a player unilaterally terminates his contract without just cause, the player is liable for all potential damages. “In all cases, the party in breach shall pay compensation. Subject to the provisions of article 20 and Annexe 4 in relation to training compensation, and unless otherwise provided for in the contract, compensation for the breach shall be calculated with due consideration for the law of the country concerned, the specificity of sport, and any other objective criteria. These criteria shall include, in particular, the remuneration and other benefits due to the player under the existing contract and/or the new contract, the time remaining on the existing contract up to a maximum of five years, the fees and expenses paid or incurred by the former club (amortised over the term of the contract) and whether the contractual breach falls within a protected period.”
Additionally and specifically to address potential meddling by the acquiring club, it goes on to state in section two that no third party can pay the resulting damages (IE: a club can’t pay those damages for the player).
Additionally under section three the player would be subject to a ban from all competitions for a period of 4-6 months depending on the severity of the breach.
And of last, but of course not least, the acquiring club would be subject two a minimum two window transfer ban. What About FIFA, Could They Intervene On Messi’s Behalf?
There is, at least in theory, some ground for thinking this may be a possible avenue for Messi to escape his contract, and it would involve invoking Article 14 of FIFA’s Transfer Regulations
, which states,
“A contract may be terminated by either party without consequences of any kind (either payment of compensation or imposition of sporting sanctions) where there is just cause.
Exactly what FIFA would accept as a just cause remains to be seen, as the wording of the clause is incredibly vague when compared to, say Article 15, which governs contract termination for sporting cause, and to my knowledge, there have been no attempt at invoking Article 14.
In Messi’s favor would be FIFA’s own declared stance that contracts should handled with the spirit of the contract in mind as they declared in their April 7th release to address the legal consequences of Covid-19
. Of relevant note: “If parties cannot agree and, as a consequence, cases come to FIFA, the factors to be examined will include the following:
- whether there was a genuine attempt by the club to reach agreement with the players;
- what the economic situation of the club is;
- the proportionality of any adjustment to player contracts;
- the net income position of players after any contract adjustment; and
- whether players have been treated equally or not.”
Invoking Article 14 or appealing directly to FIFA are of course hardly grantees of success. In the case of Article 14 it will be difficult to define precisely what qualifies as ‘just cause.’ Messi clearly wants the spirit of his contract to be honored, but he has not been materially harmed in any way by the club, and as such, that argument may not be enough.
And though the FIFA guidelines with regards to player contracts exist, they are guidelines, not official policy, and have never been subject to any kind of legal test like the ones they would surely face at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who are the designated arbitrators for FIFA. Should FIFA agree with Messi that his contract is voided, Barcelona’s next step would be to file an immediate appeal to CAS and hope for an injunction.
As if all of that weren’t muddy enough, this is where things get really murky. Let’s say FIFA declares Messi’s contract void and he immediately signs with a new club, but upon review, the Court of Arbitration for Sport were to rule in favor of Barcelona – what then? Is Messi’s new contract voided? Are the new club and/or Messi liable for damages? Worse still – what if a Spanish civil court ruled Messi is in breach of contract regardless of what FIFA or CAS say?
This is, to say the least, extremely shaky legal ground that has no precedent to guide it, and both Messi and his new club would be taking an enormous financial risk even if FIFA were to back the player’s desired move.
Given the enormous financial risks involved, it’s unlikely that either the player or the acquiring club would have much of a stomach for this fight, even if the odds of success were somewhat better, especially if such resolution were to take another five to six months to achieve, during which time the player would be in limbo, and the club be deep into the most meaningful matches of their season. What else is possible?
With Barcelona’s stance appearing to be fixed – no negotiations will be had – and all legal avenues either against the player or on unsteady legal footing, and with both sure to take many months to finalize, what other options does Messi have?
So far Messi and his camp are taking an approach that would be familiar to fans of the American NFL – he has refused to show up to mandatory team actives in violation of his contract – a holdout. In doing so he’s made himself subject to fines that could cost him his paychecks, but he’s also ratcheted up the pressure on Barcelona to find a solution.
If Messi’s stance is indeed to hold out – to refuse to play for the club without signing for someone else – he’s showing that he’s willing to stay at home for an entire year and in the process forfeit his pay. That, at least in theory, leaves the club in a bit of a bind. Assuming they don’t care about the optics of playing hardball with a club legend – and it certainly doesn’t appear Bartomeu cares much for what those around the club think of him – then the holdout does very little from a financial perspective. In fact, they can maintain all of their sponsorship agreements as they are, and the club won’t have to pay Messi a single Euro (at least in base salary, he’d still be due his image rights and other provisions). In doing so the club would likely save somewhere in the neighborhood of €45m/€60m – Messi’s exact salary is unknown.
Although we don’t know what stipulations are attached to Barcelona’s many sponsorship agreements as it pertains to Messi, it’s fair to say the club stands to lose a lot
of money if Messi is sold or released before the start of the season. As a result it could be
that Bartomeu’s refusal to sell Messi is borne less of any malignance toward the club legend than it is pure economics. In short, he may believe that between the money the club save in salary they aren’t paying Messi, in addition to the sponsorship revenue that they would be able to maintain – there is no financial agreement that could be made that would be of greater value than meeting his €700m release clause.
Or it could simply be that Joesp Bartomeu is an egomaniacal ass. There’s certainly some precedence for the belief, as the long – and ongoing – legal battles between Barcelona and former star Neymar clearly illustrate. The two parties have been engaged in near perpetuity from the moment the player left for PSG in a string of lawsuits, countersuits, and countersuits to countersuits; with the club accusing the player of being in breach of contract, while the player accuses the club of refusing to pay him wages he is owed for his time with the club. All of which was preceded by attempts by La Liga to intervene on the club’s behalf by initially refusing to accept his buyout clause, while lodging appeals with UEFA surrounding PSG’s adherence to Financial Fair Play.
The lesson: Barcelona under Bartomeu is not averse to engaging in long, protracted legal engagements against star players even when there is precious little to be gained by doing so. So What’s Most Likely To Happen?
Regardless of whether Barcelona’s stance under Bartomeu is the result of financial imperative, ego, or a combination of both, it’s left no one with a clear path forward, and it may be that in the end the best option for everyone is for Messi to simply see out the final year of his contract, and sign a pre-contract with the club of his choice, free of any legal ramifications Barcelona could bring to bear, on January 1st.
As it stands today, September 2nd, Messi is less than four months away from such a situation. With nothing but a contentious legal minefield awaiting him – a field where there are no real winners, only those who lose less – perhaps it’s an opportunity for Messi to prove to the Barcelona faithful one last time that even in the face of the absurd stance of the club’s President, one man, despite being short of stature, can find yet another way to rise above the rest. Section Two: The Finances
Determining what type of financial package an acquiring club would have to put together to make a Messi transfer a reality is a multi-part problem. The first requires determining what type of fee would be required to secure the players release from his current club, the second would be determining how large his wage packet would be.
In most cases these matters are relatively straight forward, but due to the legal uncertainty surrounding Messi’s contact status with Barcelona, and the enormity of his existing wages, the task of signing Messi is anything but routine.
In order to paint as thorough a picture as possible we’ll first explore the three primary scenarios in which Messi could sign for another club: by payment of his release clause; through a negotiated fee; or on a free transfer after securing his release, or in the winter window.
We’ll then look at ways that City may try to finance such a move. Paying The Release Clause
The easiest way, and indeed perhaps the only way that Lionel Messi will be leaving Camp Nou during the summer window, will be for an interested club to take the audacious step of meeting his daunting €700m release clause. Doing so would require that club to find a way to finance a fee most triple that of any that’s ever been paid. To say the least, there are very few clubs in the world who could dream of financing such an outlay, but Manchester City may be one of the few who could.
In City’s favor will be the fact that they have a large amount of liquid assets at their disposal after the sale of 10% of the Club to Silver Lake Capital
for $500m (£389m/€423m) in November of 2019. It is possible that the club could utilize the capital raised in that sale to fund – at least in part – his release clause. What would be more difficult, would be funding the remaining €275m. Seeking to sell more shares of the club is likely out of the question – such ventures take at a minimum many months to complete, and City have just over a month to raise the necessary capital. That would likely mean taking out a loan.
If we assume that City can raise the funds, and/or have the willingness to do so, the next question is how can they account for that expense under the constraints of Financial Fair Play?
Working in that club’s favor will be what’s called amortization. Though we briefly touched on the concept earlier, let’s do it slightly more justice now. Amortization at it’s most basic is the process of spreading a payment out of a longer period of time.
What may be confusing to some in this instance is that the actual payment itself would not
be able to be spread out – if someone want’s to trigger Messi’s release clause they will need to find a way to furnish the entire €700m in one go. Instead what this is referring to, as we touched on earlier in the article, is how the payment is accounted for.
As a result of this allowance, a player’s transfer fee, at least for the purposes of compliance with Financial Fair Play, is usually not accounted for as a single lump sum, but rather is apportioned out across the length of the players contract. Still, no matter the accounting methods used, the acquiring club would be looking at a substantial FFP hit.
Reportedly Messi is only interested in a two-year contract, if so, that would leave the acquiring club in a highly untenable position, as that would mean taking an FFP hit of €350m per year on the transfer fee alone before accounting for any salary he would be owed. If we assumed a fairly conservative wage packet of €50m/yr for the Argentinian superstar that would mean the acquiring club would be taking on an eye-watering €400m FFP hit for each of the next two seasons. To give that number some context, Manchester City’s entire player expense sheet for the 2019/2020 season was roughly €450m. Even if Messi were to accept a longer five year contract, the Financial Fair Play hit would be €190m per season.
However, as a result of the Silver Lake sale, and the capital it raised, City aren’t
necessarily priced out of this move. If the contract is only for two years, they can use that cash influx in any three-year Financial Fair Play accounting period. Th Silver Lake capital alone wouldn’t cover the expense of Messi, but it would take them more than half way home, and that combined with the sale of someone like Riyad Mahrez or Gabriel Jesus – two players who’s minutes would be directly impacted by Messi’s arrival – would get them closer.
The club could then do what Juventus did in renegotiating their sponsorship with Jeep after their acquisition of Christiano Ronaldo
. Though City have only recently locked in their new apparel deal with Puma, their long standing – and much maligned – sponsorship with agreement with Etihad is due to expire at the end of the 2021 season
. City could, at least in theory, use the acquisition of Messi as justification for renegotiating that contract at a significantly higher value – just as Juventus has.
Further, they could get creative with their wage packet. The could offer Messi a token salary, along with full image rights, and competition bonuses – all things we would normally receive – but make the bold move of offering him an ownership stake in City Financial Group. Given the firm valuation £3.89b that was imparted upon them with the Silver Lake acquisition, a 4% share of CFG would be worth roughly £155m. That would be strong compensation for two years service.
In that scenario, City may, just barely, be able to ride a combination of a fortuitously timed capital injection, player sales, a cleverly designed wage packet and renegotiated contracts, over the FFP finish line. Still, it would take every resource at City’s disposal to cover that release clause and even then, it may not be enough without the sale of another significant player or two.
Let’s call this scenario highly unlikely. Paying A Negotiated Fee
In most cases, including that of Christian Ronaldo at rival Real Madrid, losing a long-tenured star player is a painful process, but one that both club and player work to make as amicable as possible. Doing so protects both the players image amongst supporters, and the clubs image to those who may with to join in the future. It’s never been a necessity, clubs have always been free to refuse to sell, and players have alway been free to hold out to try and force a move away – but football has an unspoken gentleman’s agreement that when a painful situation arises, it will be handled with class and dignity.
Josep Bartomeu does not appear to be a man who cares for the rules of convention. Whether it was with his aforementioned treatment of Neymar, or as it would appear to be in this instance – when Bartomeu has decided a player will not be allowed to leave, he would appear to mean that quite literally.
Though many may view that behavior as petulant or egotistical (and it may well be), there is a another far more likely culprit driving his decision making: financial imperative.
Though Barcelona are an incredibly wealthy and successful club
, they are also a club carrying a significant debt load (almost €1.3b), and one that would appear to have been particularly hard-hit by the impacts of Covid-19, with the President himself taking the unusual step of declaring, “since March 14, we have barely receieved nearly €1. We have lost €200 million in revenues. 200! We have recovered some money by reducing wages and with the ERTE. We had to close the shops and the museum and there were no ticket sales. We also gave money back to season ticket holders for the games that were not played.
While the motivations of that kind of statement should be questioned – heads of major companies are loathe to publicly declare loses as it negatively impacts their leverage at the negotiating table – there’s no doubt that the pandemic will have hurt the club.
On it’s face then it would appear that agreeing a fee for Messi would be a logical move to counteract that financial pain. After all, they could secure a significant fee, whilst ridding themselves of his onerous wage bill.
There are, however, hidden landmines that may be lurking in the field should the club allow Messi his leave. The first and most obvious is that there are likely de-escalator clauses in many of Barcelona’s sponsorship agreements. Just as Juventus was able to renegotiate their primary kit sponsorship with Jeep, it’s likely that there are clauses which would see Barcelona’s major sponsorships cut dramatically in the event Messi leaves.
Perhaps worse still a decline in the valuation of the club – such as the one Real Madrid saw when Ronaldo left – would have more than a paper impact on Barcelona. That’s because when a club takes out a significant loan, such as the €800m loan it’s said to have taken out this past year for renovations of Camp Nou – they’re using the value of the club as collateral against that loan. A significant change in valuation, such as the one that would happen as a result of the loss of Messi, would likely impact the interest rates Goldman Sachs charges.
At the end of that Bartomeu is a businessman. Though he may not be the most pleasant man when he doesn’t get his way, it’s more likely that he has simply looked at the bigger financial picture and come to the conclusion that there genuinely is no fee of less than €700m that would offset the loses he feels the club would incur should Messi be sold this summer.
Logically speaking, if that weren’t the case, there’d be no obvious reason for his refusal to even accept the possibility of negotiating his stars release. He surely understands that Messi could leave the club on a free in ten months time – and sign a pre-contract in less than four – and has decided that despite this, it still makes more sense to refuse to allow the player to leave.
Perhaps it’s merely hubris, or arrogance, or petulance that’s led him to this position, but it’s unlikely that he’s reached this point in his career – as the head of the highest grossing sports franchise on Earth – by being that emotional. Whatever personality traits Bartomeu may possess, he’s a prudent man, and his stance is likely borne of that same view. Waiting Till The Winter Window
If we operate under the assumption that financing the acquisition of Messi by triggering his release clause is either impossible, or implausible enough to treat as such; and that Barcelona will remain steadfast in their refusal to sell – as they very much appear to be – then that leaves Messi but one way out: on a free at the expiry of his contract.
If Messi is forced to stay at Barcelona, he can use it as one last opportunity to further cement his already indelible legacy with the Barcelona fanbase: a player who acted with class and dignity in the face of an ignominious club President. In the process he can use that time to solicit the very best offers from clubs around the world, maximizing the value of whatever contract he signs next.
Messi’s decision to leave the only club he’s every know has always appeared to be a hasty one; driven as much by a realization that Barcelona would be unlikely to deliver his dream of one last Champions League win given their current aging roster, as it was the sting of their humbling at the hands of an ascendant Bayern Munich side.
However, if Messi’s desire to leave had been driven in part by those factors leading up to his announcement, he now likely has a greater one: a disdain for Bartomeu. Though the President’s tenure is up for vote in March, he’s likely to retain his position, and it’s hard to envisage a scenario where Messi agrees to sign a new contract under his tenure, as all faith in his, or the Club’s willingness to honor the spirit of those contracts is now likely decimated.
It will also give Manchester City, and any other clubs that care to make a run at his signature, time to formulate concrete plans for how they’ll fund such an acquisition.
In the meantime, all anyone can do is wait. Perhaps Bartomeu will have a change of heart, or perhaps the approach of the deadline and the threat of losing Messi on a free will compel him into last minute negotiations. Perhaps the player will initiate a lengthy, costly, and uncertain legal battle either though the Spanish courts or through UEFA to try and secure his release during the winter window. But as of this moment, all signs point to Messi playing out the final season of his contract with Barcelona, perhaps reluctantly, before making a decision that will inexorably alter not only his life, but a significant portion of the European football landscape.