Lionel Messi’s transfer away from Barcelona is set to be one of the biggest transfers football has seen – not even the finances of the deal could outweigh its significance.
The bizarre nature of this transfer saga is made even more ludicrous by the fact that the Argentinian superstar – with over 600 career goals, 33 trophies and six Ballon D’Or awards to his name – could walk away for nothing.
In another twist to the tale amid heavy speculation linking the forward with Manchester City, he failed to show up for a coronavirus test at Barcelona’s training ground on Sunday – which he must pass before joining the squad for pre-season.
Messi believes a clause in his contract allows him to join another European heavyweight for free this summer. Yet even if he does manage to claim his Bosman from the Camp Nou, there’s no doubt his finances will take significant hole out of his new employers finances – even in current pandemic climate.
Barcelona star Lionel Messi’s move will be an expensive one for this potential new employers
How much would Manchester City’s wealthy owners (above) be forced to pay for the forward?
It will take a club with strong financial muscle to prize him away due to the complicated nature of his finances. Along with the basic wage salary comes the image rights payments, agent fees, add-ons and other additional clauses.
Even the mega-rich City would still have strained finances even without a transfer fee involved. While Messi is believed to earn around £500,000-a-week in standard salary at Barcelona, the forward will no doubt be taking a pay cut should he switch clubs this summer.
That is according to football finance expert Dr Robert Wilson of Sheffield Hallam University, who believes the current coronavirus situation means Premier League clubs cannot afford to splash out on big signings – from both a financial and PR perspective.
Football finance expert Dr Rob Wilson tells Sportsmail Messi is likely to take a pay cut
He tells Sportsmail: ‘I don’t think anyone will look to match that package. I can’t see anyone pushing the boat out that much for him – certainly not in the Premier League and especially in the current climate.
‘What we are seeing in the Premier League is that clubs are looking to be more cautious. The finances of clubs is likely to plateau due to the effects of COVID.
‘There’s also the social capital that club’s need to be building. It looks pretty obscene when you start paying large amounts of money for somebody. It looks like clubs are pushing out more socially responsible narratives.
‘Probably the maximum weekly salary he would be able to gain would be upwards of £300,000-a-week.’
Experts say Messi will be going from £500,000-a-week in basic salary to £300,000-a-week
While Messi is likely to take a pay cut from his Barcelona wage should he move to the Etihad Stadium, it could be argued that Messi’s salary could be even higher.
A lot will depend on whether Manchester City will have to pay a fee for the forward. The Argentinian star has a clause in his contract which states he can leave on a free transfer at the end of the season.
Yet that clause, according to Barcelona, had an expiry date of June 10, which was meant to be the end of the season. However, Messi argues that clause date should have been moved as the LaLiga club’s term ended on August 14.
If a free transfer is granted to Messi, then his agents could argue for a higher salary.
Dr Wilson said: ‘It falls in his favour if he gets a free transfer. That gives him more leverage to generate a higher weekly salary. If a transfer fee is paid then that would reduce the leverage.
If Messi (right) can get a free transfer from Barcelona, his wages at his new club will be higher
‘A football club looks at the total value of the deal, not just the transfer fee. So that’s transfer fee plus agent fee.
‘If City have £100million to complete the deal, but there’s no transfer fee, then there deal to sign Messi is more likely.’
Messi’s current basic salary at Barcelona earns him around £26million-a-year in wages for his on-field activities. Yet it’s his image as one of the best players of all-time which raises the ceiling of the Argentinian’s potential cost.
Messi beneifts from this through his image rights fees – where football clubs pay players for off-the-pitch commercial activities that benefit them.
Sports lawyer Stephen Taylor Heath, who has negotiated image rights agreements for players of top-level clubs such as Manchester United, says Messi’s image would double any salary he earns due to the high level of commercial activity he would attract.
It’s the Argentina star’s image that is just as lucrative as his on-the-pitch skills
When talking about what a standard image rights deal would attract, Mr Taylor Heath told Sportsmail: ‘Let’s say you pay £100,000-a-week you could imagine 20 per cent would be in relation to the image rights.
‘But for someone like Messi, he’s in the same bracket as a David Beckham where the image is as important as him playing football so that would be 50:50 split between what he gets paid for football and what the club pays him for his image rights.
‘The inland revenue in England are very hot on over-egging image rights contracts though. You can’t have a run-of-the-mill player receiving 40 per cent of their salary through image rights.
‘But when you’ve got someone like Messi, even the HMRC would have to accept that this is something different to the norm.’
Messi’s exclusive image rights may likely double his basic salary to around £600,000-a-week
It would mean that, if Dr Wilson’s estimation of Messi’s basic salary is correct, the Argentinian forward would be earning around £600,000-a-week for his fixed salary and image rights if he were to join Manchester City.
But wait – there’s more. On top of all this comes the bonuses, which are made on a club-by-club basis, depending on performances.
Club bonuses range from goals, appearances, assists, second assists and, most importantly, trophy wins. This obviously depends on how well Messi does at his new club – but Manchester City especially would be in a lot of people’s picks to gain Premier League and Champions League honours next season.
Dr Wilson believes that Messi’s bonuses will not be too dissimilar from the likes of Raheem Sterling or Kevin De Bruyne at Manchester City, but they will still do a great deal in increasing the price of the Messi package.
Winning the Champions League with Manchester City would pocket more money for Messi
He says: ‘The clauses would double or triple the basic salary and they will be done in proportion to the prize money on offer.
‘The Champions League prize money is around £100million, I would imagine Messi would take around £10million from that.’
Mr Taylor Heath added: ‘City will be aware they haven’t reached the Champions League semi-final. If they do get over that line Messi will say it’s down to him.
‘So his agent will say if you win the Champions League and it’s worth an extra bit of money to you in bonuses, then a substantial portion of that is down to me.’
It means Manchester City are likely to carry on paying significant sums towards Messi’s agreement even a year after he completes the move.
Manchester City could find ways to soften the blow of Messi’s huge finances next season
So how would the Premier League club soften the blow? While City would have to pull out all the stops financially to fund the deal, they will be getting a lot of monetary benefits in return.
Taylor Heath claims: ‘If they’re working out how they can justify the deal, then the question will be – what can they get out of Messi on a sponsorship and a commercial basis over and above what they would be expecting from the likes of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus in a player context?
‘His agents, who will be quite creative, could point at various revenue streams that they could say an increase would be purely down to the Messi factor.
One potential avenue of profit is ticket sales. Despite renowned on-the-pitch success for Manchester City, the Etihad Stadium has been filled with empty seats – something that would certainly change if Messi were to arrive in Manchester.
Mr Taylor Heath adds: ‘Everyone knows they don’t sell out the Etihad every week. It’s not a full stadium at times. He could even have a cut in potential gate profits if the sales go up – that’s not inconceivable at all.’
The Etihad was not full even before the coronavirus pandemic – Messi would change that
An increase in TV money would also arise – UEFA would be more lenient to showing Messi’s Manchester City than most clubs in Europe. All these ‘Messi factor benefits’ for City, could raise the Argentinian’s potential earnings even higher but also bring more money to the Premier League outfit.
‘City will get more exposure on the UEFA broadcast rights. If the agent brings the extra 10 per cent of broadcast revenue to the table then they argue for a better deal for their client.’
However, one area the Premier League club will not benefit from is shirt sales.
A shirt with Messi’s name and number on the back will be one of the most sought-after jerseys in world football, yet it will be City’s kit manufacturers PUMA, who pay the club £65million-a-year in shirt sponsorship, who will reap the rewards from Messi’s arrival.
Manchester City would not benefit, however, from an increase in shirt sales from Messi’s move
Dr Wilson says: ‘Manufacturers like PUMA pay the kit deals for the licence to produce match shirts – and then any sales that are generated off that go directly to them and not to the club.
‘There might be a clause that says “if we sell over this many million shirts, you will then get a percentage” but it’s very rare for any of the elite teams to have a portion of sales going in.
‘So I don’t think there is no direct incentives for any of those clubs (interested in signing Messi) to benefit from shirt sales.’
Though City’s £65million-a-year deal with PUMA could be worth more if Messi arrives
Mr Taylor Heath believes, however, that if astronomical sale prices arise from Messi’s potential Manchester City shirt, then PUMA will have no choice but to give City extra cash in return for Messi’s deal.
He says: ‘What sponsorship deals will have is performance bonuses which the sponsor will have to pay if Manchester City, as a result of signing Messi, achieve certain performance targets which they’ve not been able to reach before.’
So Messi’s package would be exceedingly more than just a simple wage – this potentially ground-breaking transfer could shatter football’s commercial industry too.