Just when it seemed as if it was only a matter of days or even hours before there would be a long-awaited announcement of free agent Lionel Messi rejoining Barcelona on a new deal, the club announced just eight days before the start of a new league season that Messi would not be returning.
A short time after, the club distributed a Messi tribute video, transforming into reality the once-unthinkable scenario of Barcelona and Messi going their separate ways.
The football icon became a free agent last month when his contract expired, with the club fully expecting him to re-sign after promising opening talks.
There was something of a warning when Barcelona-based Spanish daily Marca reported that there was a distinct scenario that signing Messi would not be doable. The club announcement came a couple of hours later, and it pointed the finger straight at the Spanish league, La Liga.
Barcelona's statement says, in no uncertain terms, that the club and player wanted to do a deal — reports in recent weeks stated that Messi was prepared to take a 50 per cent reduction in salary to make it happen — but league regulations made it an impossibility.
Barcelona are seriously hamstrung in their contract negotiations by tight Spanish football restrictions on club spending, tied in with Financial Fair Play regulations.It has been reported on Spanish media that, financial problems aside, Messi has issues with the current Barcelona squad and recruitment policy.
The 34-year-old superstar is believed to have let the club know where he stood on Wednesday.
He was due to take a 50% pay cut so that Barca could sign him up again, however, that is seemingly now not happening.
Under La Liga rules that were introduced in 2013, there is a floating salary cap for all teams which limits player wages and acquisition costs to 70 per cent of club revenues.
The fundamental problem was that, under the competition's rules, the club could not register a new player until some of their wage bill had been cleared. A new player was what Messi became when his last contract was allowed to run out.
In order to meet that requirement after a drastic reduction in revenues due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, FC Barcelona entered this summer offseason needing to shed well over $200 million in salaries just to sign Messi. But the limited transfer activity across Europe meant that the Blaugrana were nowhere close to that figure, and on August 5, the club and player came to the realization that the signing could not happen under the circumstances.
Laporta has told a press conference: "Leo wanted to stay at Barca. We wanted him to stay.
"I want to hank everyone that has been in the negotiations. There were lots of aspects that needed to be negotiated.
"He is the best player in the world and has other offers, of course.
"After all of this process, there comes a moment where you have to say 'enough'. You have to analyse it and look at the numbers.
"In La Liga we have to abide by the rules. We think they could be more flexible, but that is not an excuse. We couldn't abide by it."
Laporta also said: "The salary mass is 110 per cent of the total income of the club, we don't have any margin in terms of salary."
"The rules and regulations of the Spanish La Liga is regulated by Financial Fair Play and we don't have any margin."
"We knew that when we got to the club, but the numbers that have been presented to us, they are a lot worse than were exposed initially and those that we were working with. That means that the losses are more than we had expected.
"What we are spending is a lot more than we expected and the current contracts mean that we have this salary mass of great magnitude.
"This is all tied to fair play. La Liga doesn't follow the criteria of cash, that is why we couldn't fit in the first contract that we agreed with Leo Messi.
"In order to meet fair play, Barca had to agree to an operation that would impact the club for the next 50 years in terms of television rights. That means that we can't make a decision that impacts the club for the next 50 years."
Barcelona were anything but lean and flexible, especially with Messi occupying so much of the wage bill. It basically blocked them from doing anything different. This situation would allow them to greatly free up those finances, and rebuild anew, with the blame for losing their greatest ever player being directed elsewhere. Squarely, at La Liga president Javier Tebas.
The announcement of massive private equity investment into La Liga and its clubs only the day before was interpreted by many as helping Barcelona balance the season's player budget in a way that virtually guaranteed the Messi deal materializing. Projections based on La Liga's revenue-sharing formulas had Barcelona benefiting from a cash infusion of over $300 million, of which 15 per cent would be used for player signings.
But interestingly, both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, two of the most heavily indebted La Liga clubs and both founding members of the failed breakaway European Super League, expressed their opposition to the private equity deal with CVC Capital Partners which is slated to be voted on by La Liga's 42 clubs.
Observers say that accepting the deal would have amounted to the clubs financially attaching themselves to La Liga over the decades to come and thus forgoing their Super League ambitions.
It's the only way to explain why Barcelona, which is reportedly more than $1 billion in debt, would refuse that kind of investment, which would have been on par with the projected cash advance of the planned Super League.
There's one line of thinking that Barcelona knew all along it was never going to be in a position to sign Messi and fit his salary within its player budget limits for the upcoming season. Given the way the transfer season was shaping up, with no takers for its high-salaried players, there was no way that Barcelona could make room for Messi according to league rules.
Now that Messi is a free agent, there are realistically only a handful of sides for whom he could possibly sign — with Manchester City (managed by his former coach Pep Guardiola) and PSG top of the list.
The news he will leave Barcelona comes just days after he met up with his former Barcelona team-mate, and current PSG striker, Neymar.
And given his status as a free agent, Messi can take all the time he wants to sign with a new club. The August 31 transfer deadline only applies for signings involving players under contract with one club and moving to another.