Mike Makaab’s Take on Lionel Messi’s PSG move

We ask South Africa’s leading player agent, founder & CEO of Prosport International, Mike Makaab, on the recent events of Lionel Messi’s sudden departure from Barcelona to PSG.

Can you share some of your sentiments on this move that Lionel Messi made to PSG?

The departure of Lionel Messi has caught the footballing world by storm. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner was on the cusp of a renewal with FC Barcelona but everything suddenly fell apart.

From a football perspective, FC Barcelona have lost an entire creative system built around his talents. From a purely statistical standpoint, the Argentine would contribute a bare minimum of 50 goals every calendar year. Even last year, one of his statistical worst in a Barcelona shirt, he contributed more goals than every single individual in the team and in Europe.

Creativity goes beyond the realm of mere goals and assists. Messi was the living brain of the team as he was their engine, their driving force. Without Messi in the team, Barça are still going to be a threatening team to face, but the Garnet and Blue will not strike as much fear into their opponents as they did previously. Without Messi in the squad, more rivals will be confident when they travel to the Camp Nou and even more excited when the Blaugrana visit their stadiums. That X factor that Messi brought to matches, the ability to inject fear into opponents, has suddenly dissipated before the eyes of Barca supporters.

From a marketing perspective, it should come as no surprise to the vast majority of people that Lionel Messi is a massive marketing asset to whichever football team has him. Regardless of Barcelona’s misfortune in the UEFA Champions League, the Argentine was the world’s most marketable athlete of 2020. With such a level of marketability, the Catalans have always taken advantage of it the best they can. Given that he is arguably the world’s most marketable athlete, without him, fewer companies would be interested in investing large sums of money in Barcelona. Barcelona’s loss is PSG’s gain with both corporates and the public wanting a piece of PSG and Messi which can be seen by Messi’s PSG replica jersey selling out 30 minutes after the club displayed them for sale on its website, according to news reports.

What are some of La Liga’s financial FIFA fair play regulations that prevented Messi from remaining at his boyhood club?

The Catalan club announced last week that “despite club and player reaching an agreement and their clear intention to sign a new contract, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles.” The “obstacles” Barcelona referred to were the Spanish LaLiga’s financial fair-play rules, which are among the strictest in the world.

In 2013, LaLiga set up an economic control department which was tasked with reviewing the finances of each club and establishing a cost limit for each season. This squad limit is the amount a club can spend on its players, coaches, physios, reserve teams etc. Clubs have the flexibility to decide how the money is split between transfers and wages, provided the overall limit is not breached. Factors considered to arrive at the limit include expected revenues, profits and losses from previous years, existing debt repayments and sources of external financing among others.

For Barcelona, this limit has fallen drastically in the last few seasons. According to news reports, Barcelona’s limit for 2019-20 was €671m. Last year it fell to €347m, and unconfirmed reports have suggested that the limit for the upcoming season is in the region of €160m. Barcelona, for the upcoming season, has to pay a combined €144m per annum in wages, including Philippe Coutinho’s €20m, Antoine Griezmann’s €27m and Ousmane Dembele’s €24m. This meant there was very little wiggle room to accommodate Messi, despite the Argentine agreeing to a 50% pay cut that brought his wages down to around €50m.

Barcelona’s hands are tied because the likes of Coutinho, Griezmann and Dembele are still contracted to the club and are legally entitled to be paid, while Messi’s contract ran out at the end of last season and he had to be added as a “new player” for 2021-2022. Much of Barcelona’s woes have been traced back to the tenure of Josep Maria Bartomeu as club president from 2014 to 2020.

Neymar’s move to PSG in 2017 caused much consternation and as a face-saving gesture the club made rash decisions in the transfer market and paid exorbitant fees and salaries. The loss of revenue due to COVID-19 only exacerbated this situation, resulting in liabilities worth a staggering €1.3 billion. Last year, Barcelona was able to keep its squad together because LaLiga had temporarily removed penalties for breaching the budget threshold, because of the pandemic. League rules currently allow 25% of the profits from transfers to be used for new investments, in order to deal with the effects of the pandemic. However, 75% of all profits must be set aside to pay off the club’s liabilities and cannot go towards signing players.

As a player agent and the CEO of Prosport international, what sort of emotions do you think Messi would be going through in such a time as this, do you think he really wants to play for PSG, or he went for the team that best suited him given the circumstances?

It takes hours of patience, commitment, hard work and faith to build a house of cards. Yet, it all comes tumbling down within a second. That is the law of nature, after all. It only takes seconds for a tornado to undo even the most majestically architectured building to rubble. Barcelona and Lionel Messi are words that have grown to be synonymous over the years. They say no player is bigger than the club, yet Messi came as close as is virtually possible to being bigger than the institution he represented. It is nothing less than a fairytale, a love story like no other.

Yet, all it took was two hours. 120 minutes after shocking reports that the talismanic no.10 would leave, he was gone. Messi was forced to leave the Nou Camp after 21 years due to La Liga regulations and the Catalan side’s own financial mismanagement. He was left devastated as he admitted he did not want to leave the club in a teary farewell press conference. He would have felt sad for himself and his family as his original plan was to continue at Barcelona. Those sorrowful emotions quickly turned to joy as it has been reported that Messi has felt very happy since signing with PSG and really wants to start training sessions with the team.

I think that Messi went for a team that best suited him given the circumstances however what made PSG even more attractive was the fact that Neymar plays for PSG and both Neymar and compatriot Pochettino influenced Messi to join PSG.

There are comments on social media that state that, if Messi really loved Barcelona he would play for free, what are your thoughts on that?

It should be noted that Messi, with still one year remaining in his deal, wanted to leave last year but made a last-minute decision to stay and reassess his options after 12 months. Barcelona could not have included Messi even if he had opted to play for free this season, and his signature would have only been possible if the club had sold players and renegotiated contracts with high earners, both of which proved unsuccessful.

How do you see PSG fairing this season with their Messi, Mbappe, Neymar combination, do you think they are strong UCL contenders?

It will be fascinating to see how Mauricio Pochettino, a manager who built his reputation around a relentless, high-pressing style of play, convinces Messi, Neymar and Mbappe to put in the hard yards considering they attempted 83 tackles in 84 combined league matches last season, at an average of one every 82 minutes.

More likely is that Pochettino will have to park his coaching philosophy to one side for now and just let the three of them get on with it as keeping them all happy represents his best chance of keeping his job. The Argentine sent PSG out in a 4-4-2 system for a 2-1 win over Troyes last weekend, but a 4-3-3 formation appears to be a more natural fit moving forward. That is the setup that Barcelona used when it was they, rather than PSG who “owned” Neymar and Messi – the former cutting in off the left flank, the latter from the right and Luis Suarez playing the part of the roving menace in between.

Four years on and the duo could reprise their roles in the Parc des Princes, this time with Mbappe offering the cut-and-thrust through the middle. Alternatively, Messi could be used as a “False 9” – the position he tended to play for Barcelona in 2020-21 – with Mbappe deployed on the right flank. Plenty of interchanging is likely in any case. A 4-3-3 formation would give PSG more security than a 4-2-3-1 which would shoehorn Messi’s international colleague Angel Di Maria into the front four and allow Messi to slip into a more creative role as a No 10. That would surely ask too much of Wijnaldum and co in midfield, though, particularly against Europe’s elite – a band of clubs that admittedly appears to be dwindling.

When Qatar Sports Investments completed their takeover of PSG in 2011, they had two main ambitions: win the Champions League and sign one of Messi or Ronaldo. At long last one of those objectives has been fulfilled and the expectation will be that the other will follow as a result, placing PSG at the forefront of the sport just in time for the World Cup in the owners’ backyard. Having reached and lost the 2020 Champions League Final, and with Messi now on board, the sky is the limit for PSG. They will be strong UCL contenders and the only thing that can bring PSG crashing back down to earth is themselves.

Lastly, Do you think PSG offered Messi a good contract, and what type of revenue increase in percentage do you think PSG will have with the signing of Messi.

According to reports, Messi’s two-year contract with PSG earns him a €35 million annual net salary, including bonuses. The contract also has an option for a third year. The 34-year-old will get his cut of player image rights, including jersey sales which could increase his salary to approximately €64 million.

PSG said in a statement that fan tokens are included in Messi’s “welcome package,” or signing-on fee, provided by the club’s fan token provider. The club did not state what percentage of the deal comprised the tokens but said he had received a “large number.” Considering that the global economy is still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic that is by and large “under control” but far from over, Lionel Messi has signed an extremely favourable contract with PSG.

Replica shirts bearing his name are flying off the shelves, followers are flocking by the millions to his new club’s social media accounts and TV rights suddenly looking for a bargain. There is hence, no doubt that Lionel Messi’s arrival in Paris has surely set the money train in motion. Paris Saint-Germain’s chairman Nasser al-Khelaifi bluntly told reporters on Wednesday that people would be “shocked” by the revenue the 34-year-old six-time Ballon d’Or winner would bring to the club.

“It will bring PSG a lot of money, and it will bring fans a lot of fun and joy. There’s something in it for everyone, and everybody will be happy.”

Moreover, on social media, the numbers became visible as soon as rumours of a possible transfer to PSG started. According to social media activity trackers, PSG gained 3 million followers, including 2.1 million on Instagram and 611,000 thousand on Facebook, all from Friday evening to Tuesday evening. An estimate showed a 4.5 million increase on Instagram alone over the past 24 hours.

Lionel Messi’s signing with PSG will propel the club to greater heights both financial and in stature as a global brand alongside the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid and both Milan clubs.

Thank you kindly for your time Mike. Follow Mike Makkab on Twitter Here – @MikeMakaab

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