Football’s Catch-22 of winning at all costs has created a Messi situation

Players’ extortionate wages are killing clubs — so let’s not pretend the €565k-a-week Argentine superstar isn’t as complicit as Barcelona, writes Laura Lawrence. 

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“When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.”

—  John Yossarian in Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

Lionel Messi’s exit press conference from Barcelona FC had a touch of Yossarian about it. Here was a man who didn’t want to leave the club where he had spent his whole career. But his overinflated wages had helped bring the Spanish club to the point where they couldn’t afford him – even if he played for free. 

Insanity is indeed contagious.

This scenario should be studied as if it were a literary masterpiece. The drama, comedy, and tragedy make it entertaining but, in reality, it is a microcosm of football’s real issue. Players’ wages kill football clubs. Football clubs bending to the will of agents all in the name of challenging for silverware is suicide.

The difference between Yossarian and Messi is that the soldiers in Catch-22 would certainly end up dead. Messi instead ended up at another club that overspends. And so, the cyclical nature of football continues to eat itself.

La Liga has a set salary cap in order to rein in some of the exuberant spending. This figure stands at €2.24 billion, which includes players, coaches, and training staff registered to each first team.

To sign Messi, their own player, they would have had to shave €200 million from their wage bill. It begs the questions as to why they signed Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, and Eric Garcia when they still needed to reduce their wage bill and negotiate Messi’s contract?

They tried to offload Philippe Coutinho, Samuel Umtiti, and Miralem Pjanic but either the players didn’t want to leave, or the price was too high to whet the appetite of would-be buyers.

There are no winners in this story. Even if, at half the wages of €565,000 a week, Barcelona had managed to re-sign Messi, the answer of why clubs are in such deep trouble speaks for itself. Over half a million euros a week on one player. It’s unsustainable. It’s insanity.

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As sad as Messi may be to be forced out of the club he loves, a salary cap isn’t the devil in this scenario. Barcelona’s president, Joan Laporta, has been lobbying to reduce the salary cap instead of concentrating on the real issue of agents and the over-inflation of wages. This doesn’t include their insistence that a Super League will somehow be their saviour. The ‘win at all costs’ mentality is costing Barcelona its future, along with many other football clubs.

When Jimmy Hill and the PFA won the right to end salary caps on footballers’ wages in 1961, it made sense. Players earned little and profits went to the owners and chairmen. We’re in a very different era now, and historic clubs feel compelled to pay or risk relegation, stagnation, and the wrath of their own fans for not spending enough in the transfer window.

Some will argue that to get the best players you have to pay the price – but what if that price is the existence of your football club?  

Football’s Catch-22 will only remain if football clubs allow it to. But it must be said that Messi is as complicit as Barcelona.

Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR

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