It’s happening: For the first time in his 17-year professional career, Lionel Messi will no longer call Spain home.
After a protracted breakup with his prior club, FC Barcelona, Messi is reportedly heading north to join Paris Saint-Germain in France’s Ligue 1 according to ESPN. The deal is said to be two years in length, though the value is undisclosed.
Messi’s departure from Barcelona signifies the end of an era. He’s only the second soccer player in the world to have earned more than $1 billion, following his bitter rival Cristiano Ronaldo, and has long been considered the sport’s greatest active player. Under the lights of Camp Nou, the 34-year-old played in 778 matches, netting 672 goals and 268 assists. He won 35 titles and 78 awards, including a record six Ballon d’Ors.
Messi has collected more than $1.2 billion in career earnings before taxes, $875 million on the pitch and $375 million in endorsements, according to Forbes estimates. This year, he was the highest-paid soccer player in the world at $130 million ($97 million in salary and $33 million in endorsements from partners Adidas, Anheuser Busch InBev, Gatorade, Hard Rock Cafe Inc., Jacob & Co, Ooredoo and Pepsi). And it could have been even higher: Forbes estimates that Messi lost between $25 million and $75 of salary and bonuses to pandemic-related pay cuts over the last two seasons.
According to a statement from Barcelona, Messi and the club had reached an agreement for the superstar to remain in Spain, but because of “financial and structural obstacles” the deal could not be consummated. That refers to the pandemic reduction of La Liga’s salary cap, which reduced the league’s total spending on player wages by $700 million last year. Barcelona itself has been riddled with financial difficulties, with Spanish newspaper El Mundo reporting in January that the club was on the “verge of bankruptcy.” The club’s most recent financial filings show a loss of $117 million in 2020 while carrying $1.4 billion in debt.
“We are over the salary limit that we are allowed. It is as simple as that,” Barcelona president Laporta said at a news conference on Friday.
In the French capital, Messi’s arrival further cements PSG as a powerhouse. The club has won seven of the last nine Ligue 1 titles and is home to other global stars such as Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappé. Both also landed on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest paid athletes at No. 6 ($95 million) and No. 31 ($40 million), respectively. Neymar, according to ESPN, had played an active role in the recruiting process, pitching Messi on joining PSG while on vacation together in Ibiza. With Messi in tow, Paris Saint-Germain now has three of the top four highest-paid soccer players in the world.
With reporting by Christina Settimi.