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La Liga salary cap - Messi, Barcelona and the Unbelievable Transfer

Updated: Aug 7, 2022


The transfer that not a lot of experts thought that they would ever see happen this summer. Messi decided to leave Barcelona after spending 18 years at the club, playing 778 games while scoring 672 goals for the main squad(1). Not only that, he also won 6 Ballon d'Or (award given out by L'equipe, a French newspaper. It is widely regarded as the most prestigious award an individual soccer player can receive), 4 Champions League titles, 3 FIFA club world cup, 10 domestic league titles, 7 times Spanish Cups, 8 Spanish Super cups, among other awards for breaking records and being the best player in various tournaments(2). There is a lot to say about Messi, who is one of the greatest to ever play the game. That will, however, not be the focus of this article. This article will focus on the transfer of Messi and how rules set up by La Liga, the top professional soccer league in Spain, made it impossible for Barcelona to keep him. In 2017 Messi signed a new 4-year long contract with Barcelona. It has been reported the value of the contract is €555,237,619 gross. This includes the image rights, bonuses and other performance-based clauses. Messi had a guaranteed salary of €138 million per season and also received €115,225,000 as a renewal bonus and €77,929,955 as a loyalty bonus. (3) That's a lot of cash but considering that Messi is one of the best players of all time to ever play soccer, it is not so surprising after all. It is now 2021 and time is running out, especially considering that since the European Court of Justice Bosman ruling in 1995, players can sign as a free agent to another club if the contract length is less than 6 months and transfer when the contract runs out(4). Barcelona, like many other clubs around the world, is struggling with its finances because of the pandemic and having employed many players with high wages. La Liga, as mentioned earlier, has implemented a salary cap. Any club that exceeds the salary cap will not be able to register new players. The limit is calculated by taking the total income and subtracting the squad costs. The La Liga president, Javier Tebas, has introduced a "4x1 rule" considering that a club will not always earn the same every year. The 4x1 rule means that for every 4 euros a club receives in income, only 1 euro should be spent on the squad. In 2019, the mean salary for a Barcelona player was €10.4 million and their total squad spending limit was €671.4 million. (5) The salary cap, which states that only 70% of the total income of a club can be assigned to club wages is regulated in articles 34-41(6). The current president of Barcelona that was recently elected, said in his first press conferences that the salaries are 110% of the income. This obviously created some issues and it was reported that Barcelona needs to cut their salaries by roughly €200 million to comply with league rules(7). Even if Messi would have played for free, Barcelona would still be over the league limit(8). Barcelona was quite successful to lower its operating costs during this transfer window and was able to lower it by €145 million(9). As we all know by now, the attempts of Barcelona was unsuccessful to keep Messi and he moved on to sign a 2-year contract for Paris Saint Germain where he will earn a pre-tax annual salary of around €30-35 million according to French sources(10). It can't be for certain that it was the financial aspect that made Messi and Barcelona part ways but it is not too far fetched to say that it played a part in the decision. In recent years, Barcelona has not been as successful in the Champions League like they once were while Paris Saint Germain is on the way up, finishing 2nd in 2020 after losing against Bayern München in the final.

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