Lionel Messi is now officially a free agent after his enormous four-year, €500 million Barcelona contract expired at the stroke of midnight on July 1.
The Argentina international’s deal was the largest signed by an athlete in sports history, even eclipsing the contracts offered to the leading lights in the NFL, MLB and NBA.
– Messi’s Barcelona career: The ultimate history
– La Liga on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)
Naturally, Barca are working on a renewal for their talisman, but a combination of the club’s €1 billion debt, the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and financial fair play rules means that they will not be able to offer Messi a new deal anywhere near as big as the one which has just lapsed.
“We want him to stay and Leo wants to stay, everything is on track,” club president Joan Laporta told Onda Cero. “We still have the financial fair play [issue] to sort out … we’re in the process of finding the best solution for both parties.”
It’s likely that Laporta will find a way to make room in the Barca budget for Messi to remain for a few more years, though news that the 34-year-old might — just might — be up for grabs this summer sent reverberations through the football world.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner has been linked with European heavyweights Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, who are realistically the only other two elite clubs who could afford to sign him. However, as you might expect, several other clubs have thrown their hats into the ring on social media, reaching out to Messi in the vain hope of tempting him away from the Camp Nou.
Newell’s Old Boys, Messi’s boyhood team from his hometown of Rosario, were among the first to make their interest known, tugging on the Barca star’s heart strings in a bid to woo him into an emotional homecoming.
Hola Leo, estás ahí? En Argentina recién ahora es 1 de julio…
(El que no arriesga no gana 👀) https://t.co/aGo40Kp32t pic.twitter.com/HJ1EUy3aDZ
— Newell’s Old Boys (@Newells) July 1, 2021
“Hi Leo, are you there?” Newell’s tweeted along with a photo of Messi wearing the club’s jersey, which he donned as a tribute to Diego Maradona upon scoring his first goal after the Argentine legend’s death last year. The club then pointed out that the date had ticked over to July 1 in Argentina, adding “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
— Newell’s Old Boys (@Newells) July 1, 2021
If that wasn’t enough, Newell’s then doubled down on the schmaltz for the player who left them as a teenager to move to Barcelona by posting an image of a banner that is displayed at their Estadio Marcelo Bielsa which reads: “Messi: Your dream is our fantasy, Newell’s encourages you and waits.”
⚽EL MURAL DEL 🔟 EN LA CIUDAD😍
👏Así va quedando el mural en homenaje a Lionel #Messi que se pinta en Buenos Aires y Azara, una de las esquinas del barrio natal de La Pulga en Rosario. La obra de arte será presentada este jueves 1 de julio.
📸Increíbles imágenes de @rosdrone pic.twitter.com/iY1VSy866X
— Rosario3.com (@Rosariotres) June 30, 2021
Coincidentally, a gigantic new mural of Messi which has recently been completed on the side of a building in his old neighbourhood is due to be officially unveiled by the city of Rosario on Thursday. Messi has said several times in the past that he would like to return to Newell’s at the end of his career. Maybe it will happen sooner than anyone expected.
Messi has also received a formal contract offer from Ibis Sport Club, the tiny Brazilian outfit who once proudly claimed to be the “worst football team in the world.” This came after Ibis entered the Guinness World Record books for failing to win a single game over a period of three years and 11 months during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
— Íbis Sport Club (@ibismania) June 30, 2021
“Hello, we are very happy because your contract is ending. Therefore, we are here with a proposal for you to play for the worst team in the world,” the club wrote as it presented its contract terms, which include several unusual conditions:
1 – Duration of 15 years on the contract. Commencing July 1, 2021
2 – Performance-based salary (on merit)
3 – You can’t score many goals (cause for contract termination)
4 – You can’t be a champion (reason for contract termination)
5 – You can’t wear the No. 10 shirt (it’s for [Ibis cult legend] Mauro Shampoo)
6 – Swear three times in the mirror that Pele is much better Maradona
Hi @TeamMessi, some reasons to come to FC Volendam:
🟠 We follow the philosophy of Johan Cruyff.
🟠 You can play with one of Europe’s topscorers.
🟠 We have great fish.
🟠 We have the most beautiful orange shirt in the world.
You just have to sign. Hope to see you @ The Dijk. pic.twitter.com/Qnga6hZxpY
— FC Volendam 🔶 (@fcvolendam) July 1, 2021
There was a similarly optimistic offer on the table from FC Volendam, who presented Messi with a comprehensive list of reasons why their humble club in the Dutch second tier would be the perfect next destination for him.
Great fish? Check. Nice orange kit? Check and check.
“AnNoUnCe MeSsI” pic.twitter.com/jQPlVH0WcX
— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) June 30, 2021
Elsewhere, Major League Soccer side Real Salt Lake went to the trouble of mocking up an image of Messi in their kit and promising — with tongues firmly pressed in cheeks — that they were building up to a big announcement.
Lionel Messi on a free…
— Jonathan Walters (@JonWalters19) July 1, 2021
With Messi finally presented with the chance to prove himself on a cold, wet Tuesday night in Stoke, former Potters striker Jonathan Walters attempted to hook his former club up.