Spain’s status as a destination for astronomical soccer salaries could be changing a little.
According to multiple reports, like this one in Marca, prized asset Lionel Messi will sign a five-year contract extension with Barcelona but take a 50% annual salary cut. La Liga wants to implement stricter financial regulations upon teams and clamp down on the debt-ridden Catalan side.
No player earned more than Messi last year. But now, with La Liga president Javier Tebas aware of the economic situation facing the division’s leading teams, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid will need to reduce their wage bills ahead of the new league season. That could mean new contracts for some players and others leaving, with only 25 squad members allowed per team this coming campaign.
There is already talk of midfielder Saúl Ñiguez swapping Atlético for Barcelona. The deal would see forward Antoine Griezmann move the other way, and while Saúl would not come cheap, forgoing the Frenchman would help Barcelona chip away at its costs. It could be tricky to pull off, though, with La Liga vigilant on such exchanges and Barcelona in need of a big offer. Atlético is not in a great position to spend freely but is currently more able to than the Blaugrana.
Meanwhile, although Real Madrid hasn’t splashed out on new players in recent seasons, it is also unexempt from restrictions. Eden Hazard—who has eaten away at its funds despite playing so infrequently—is an expensive star to keep, as is Gareth Bale, still a Real player despite his loan switch to Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League last season. Los Blancos will have to consider its stance on those two players in particular.
All these signs point towards a new structure in Spain, in which stars receive less money or clubs are forced to make tough calls and sell, assuming buyers can meet the right price. If sought-after Neymar and Kylian Mbappé stay at Paris Saint-Germain, France may soon be the place for high earners, with Italy—home to Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo—and England in close attendance.
One way La Liga clubs could recover higher wages is if healthy offers arrive from abroad. But this seems a long shot. Many clubs may be reluctant to break the bank because of the knock-on effects of Covid-19, so a mass exodus is far from the obvious conclusion.
As for La Liga itself, this all appears to be a win-win outcome. Barcelona is finally bowing down to pressure over expenditure but has managed to tie down main protagonist Messi to a new deal, which is also a boost to Tebas, who can still boast that Spain is still home to one of the all-time greats. Messi, aged 34, still has a lot in the tank, as he exemplified by helping Argentina win the Copa America this summer.
The agreement between Barcelona and Messi proves that even the most valuable faces can settle for less, although Messi is still set to rake in a remarkable sum. With more dealings to be done across the division, this could soon become a trend. Barcelona will be keen to negotiate reduced terms with its other stars, as will other competitors in the coming weeks.
Expect further frugal changes before Spain’s top division gets back underway next month.