Barcelona president seeks to play down Lionel Messi exit fears
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has told Diario Sport that Lionel Messi's contract renewal is effectively already signed and rejected fears a club could trigger the €300 million buyout clause in the new deal.
Bartomeu said the extension -- officially announced by the club in July -- is missing only "the official photograph and the protocol of the signature" as he sought to play down fears that the 30-year-old could walk away from the Camp Nou.
Former Barca presidential candidate Agusti Benedito launched a no-confidence vote against him on Friday, suggesting, among other things, that Messi could leave for free when the current deal expires in the summer due to the board's continued mismanagement of the club.
Bartomeu, though, said the extension is "all agreed and signed," adding: "There are three contracts.
"One with the Messi Foundation, which is signed with the president of the Foundation and the player's brother. There's an image rights contract with Messi, which his father has signed, who is the administrator of his company, and the employment contract, which his father has signed, who has the power to do so."
Bartomeu had said at the end of July that Messi had signed, but the club's vice-president, Jordi Mestre, later indicated that that was not the case.
Asked what is needed it for it to be rubber-stamped, Bartomeu has now said: "Just that Leo arrives and we have the official photograph and the protocol of the signature.
"The contract's signed. It's valid from the month of June, from June 30, the same day that he got married, curiously. It's been audited because it goes into the accounts for last season. There are no problems. It's just the protocol of the signature. We're relaxed.
"We've had schedule problems. Now, he's back on Sept. 6 or Sept. 7, then we play on Sept. 9. There are a lot of games. We will find the moment."
Even if he does sign, Messi's buyout clause will be just €300m, which does not appear prohibitive after Paris Saint-Germain paid out €222m to trigger Neymar's buyout clause at Barca this summer.
Bartomeu, though, does not fear another Neymar situation, saying: "Not with Leo's commitment to the club... Barca will never make a player stay if he tells us he wants to leave, as happens at other clubs in Europe. We have a different way of being to other clubs.
"It doesn't matter if the clause is €500m, €600m, €1,000m or €1,500m, we can put any clause that we want because if a player wants to leave, we will have to sit down and speak about how we will do it. That's what we lacked with Neymar. If we'd done it that way, it would have been better for everyone."
Neymar's exit had a big impact on the club, especially on their summer transfer dealings, but Bartomeu insisted it was an opportunity for Barca to move back toward their traditional models of possession-based football, moving on from the dependency on their MSN attack -- consisting of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar -- of the last three years.
"[The MSN attack] has been really good but it's had consequences and this is an opportunity to make a return to collective football in midfield, which is traditionally Barca's strength," he said.
PSG are now subject to a UEFA investigation after breaking the world transfer record to sign Neymar and then bringing in Kylian Mbappe from Monaco on a loan deal that is set to cost them €180m next summer.
"There's an inflated transfer market that doesn't come from football but from elsewhere," Bartomeu said. "Our decision [to counter that] has been to improve the academy, increase revenue and to work with UEFA, FIFA and the ECA [European Club Association] so that Financial Fair Play is applied with force and there's a limit on transfers.
"Something has to be done. It can't be the case that there's money that comes from outside of football and pumped into the industry."
Asked if he was referring to PSG's Qatari ownership, he responded: "Yes. And Abu Dhabi [Manchester City are owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group], two countries that have clubs.
"If Bayern, [Manchester] United, [Real] Madrid or Arsenal buy a player, you know [the money] comes from football. But these two clubs distort the market.
"[Barca's relationship with Qatar] was a sponsorship deal at market value. For example, two years ago, UEFA reduced QTA's sponsorship of PSG to €200m. We have to play with the same cards."
Barca could have reduced PSG's net spend this summer had they succeeded with a late bid for winger Angel Di Maria, but Bartomeu denied it would have eased PSG's FFP concerns.
"Signing Di Maria wouldn't have reduced [PSG's FFP risk] because the offer from Barca was less than what he was worth to PSG as an asset," he said.
Asked if he had known that, he replied: "Of course. I knew what they'd paid for him, the time on his contract and what his amortisation was. Barca's offer was inferior to that."
The president also said there's "an agreement in principle" for Andres Iniesta to renew his contract with the club at the end of the season, despite the midfielder's recent comments to the media, and called for optimism, not pessimism, claiming that Barca's squad is better now than it was last season.
On Benedito's vote of no confidence, Bartomeu said "he's within his rights" to move the motion forward, but said in his opinion there are no "extraordinary circumstances" for it.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.