Barcelona trying to keep Lionel Messi could have put the club at risk for 50 years, says president Joan Laporta.
Messi, 34, is leaving because they could not afford to give him a new contract under La Liga’s salary limit.
A private equity firm wanted to invest in La Liga, which could have made signing Messi possible, but would have meant Barca giving up some TV rights.
“I can’t make a decision that will affect the club for 50 years,” Laporta said.
“The club is over 100 years old and it’s above everyone and everything, even above the best player of the world. We will always thank him for everything he’s done for us.
“In order to have fair play, we need to do this or make an effort which would put the club at risk. We couldn’t keep going with this and we needed to make a decision, which we have.”
Messi, Barcelona’s all-time leading goal scorer, had agreed a new five-year contract on reduced wages – but the club still had to slash their wage bill to afford him, and were unable to do so.
“Leo wanted to stay, so he’s not happy,” Laporta said. “We all wanted him to stay. For him, he has to confront reality. It’s a reality that can’t be changed and he knows I wish him the best wherever he goes.”
Laporta added that he did not want to give ‘false hope’ on ‘hypothetical’ ideas that would see keeping Messi possible. “This negotiation has ended,” he said.
Messi is Barcelona’s record scorer with 672 goals and has won 10 La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and the Copa del Rey seven times, as well as claiming the Ballon d’Or on a record six occasions.
“Leo’s legacy is excellent. He’s made history,” Laporta said. “He’s the player with the most success in history of the club.
“He’s been the reference of an era which has been splendid. The best era of Barca’s history until today.
“A new era starts now. There will be a before and after Leo. We need to be eternally thankful to him.”
Laporta revealed that the aim had been for Messi to stay for two more years – even though he had agreed a five-year deal.
“Obviously it’s sad the situation is what it is – that with COVID, we can’t pay homage to him in a way we would have wanted to do in two years with fans in the stands.
“We were all thinking two years and then if he wanted more we could negotiate. We wanted the post-Messi era to start in two years. Taking into account the circumstances, we’ve had to bring it forward.”
Private equity firm CVC wanted to invest 2.7 billion euros into La Liga in exchange for 10 per cent revenue and a 10% stake in most of its business, but Barca – who felt it would affect future TV deals – and Real Madrid opposed the deal.
“The only way to have that salary margin now was to accept the operation we don’t think is interesting for Barcelona,” Laporta said.
“It’s an operation that puts at risk the club for the next 50 years. We can’t do that.”
Laporta, who became president in March after Josep Maria Bartomeu stepped down in October – says a recent audit shows the club’s financial situation is worse than they expected – and that he initially thought La Liga would allow their new contract with Messi.
Messi’s exit has taken Barcelona’s wage bill is down from 110 per cent of their income to 95 per cent.
Laporta hopes the club will be able to register new signings such as Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Emerson and Eric Garcia now Messi has gone.
“These are players coming to Barca accepting certain salary conditions and we have to thank them for that,” he said.