Barcelona fans have finally got the news they were so desperate for: Lionel Messi will stay. Sure, their debt-riddled club is going to hell in a handcart, desperately dumping fringe first-team players like so many sandbags from a sinking blimp, but they are doing so with the brightest jewel from their golden crown still glittering in the Camp Nou floodlights, even if the crown itself is on its way to the pawnshop. The Argentinian genius has agreed a new five-year contract, a deal which will potentially tie the twinkle-toed wonder to the Catalans until he is 39 (though there is talk of a you-can-go-to-America-now-if-you-want clause that starts in 2023). This is wonderful news for Messi, of course, as well as Barça fans, Messi’s Mr 20%, and anyone unsure whether he’s the one thing most likely to drive the club to ruin or the only thing saving it from disaster and in need of a bit more evidence before they make up their minds.
There is a grisly scene in the 2001 film Hannibal whereby Ray Liotta’s character, heavily drugged, is fed pan-fried slices of his own brain by Anthony Hopkins’ eponymous serial killer. “That smells great!” he exclaims as it cooks. “Mmm, it is good!” It is a scene that once seen is hard to shake from your memory. You might not think of it every day, or every month or even every year, but every now and then up it pops. Such as when a club that is in debt to the tune of €1bn turns to the player they have paid something in the region of €555,237,619 over the last four years (according to leaked documents published by El Mundo in January), while winning a couple of league titles and the occasional domestic cup, and says something along the lines of: “Here, sign this enormous new contract! And while you’re up, do me a favour and stick another one of my limbs on the barbie.”
Perhaps it’s not as bad as all that. Word is that Messi’s new salary is half his old one (which would make it about €69.5m a year), though it sounds like a devilishly complex arrangement involving numerous bonuses and a built-in pay bump for 2022-23, by which time Barcelona’s financial issues might have eased. And there’s a chance that where Messi has led, some of Barcelona’s other highly-paid stars – the likes of Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets – will feel forced to follow by negotiating pay cuts of their own, helping to haul the club away from the jaws of doom.
According to latest rumours, Barcelona still need to reduce their expenditure on player wages by around €200m to comply with La Liga’s salary cap, so further squad surgery is required. For years now they have relied on his goals to win trophies, on the trophies to win sponsorships and on his fame to fill their museum with loose-walletted tourists, but accusations that Barça were a one-man team have always been wide of the mark. Much more of this, though, and it might literally be true.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“After 18 months of misery, I thought it would bring the England fans together” – Surrey roofer Charlie Perry claims he was the fan spotted on film snorting an unspecified white powder and sticking a flare where the sun doesn’t shine before Sunday’s Euro Not 2020 final. He then allegedly blagged his way into Wembley without a ticket to boot. What a way to unify the nation.
“Re: the penalties debate (yesterday’s Fiver letters). As an Italian and one old enough to clearly remember just how poor both Italian clubs and the national team were at taking them throughout the 80s and 90s, I still believe they are very much part of our game. I’ve never understood the whole ‘it’s a lottery’ or ‘it’s no way to determine the outcome’ arguments, as taking penalties require a special skill by both the taker and keeper who are part of the competing teams. The excitement, the overwhelming tension, the prize on the line, it’s just such a unique requirement of our game that no sport can match. I love them and long may they remain” – Flavio L’Abbate.
“I suggest to do away with the football nonsense altogether and go straight to penalties. This fits The Fiver’s valiant and ongoing Stop Football efforts and enables us all to get back home from a shootout in time for tea” – Jeremy Foxon.
“Cheer up England fans. It’s only ‘in Rome’ for three years, so the joke’s on the Italians” – Paul Dixon.
“Re: ‘at the time of Fivering’ (Fiver passim). Recently, my wife has adopted a practice of writing down all the things she has accomplished at the end of the day. This is more satisfying than crossing off from a long To Do list. Now that ‘Fivering’ is a thing, I can happily add it to my daily list of accomplishments. This is much more satisfying than writing ‘mindless internet reading’, although I am not sure this trick will make much of a difference to Apple’s screen time statistics, but we must start somewhere” – Michael James Perry.
Send your letters to [email protected]. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Paul Dixon.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Basketball Ireland chief suit Bernard O’Byrne, formerly of the FAI, has stood down after posting ‘Black Dives Matter’ in a Facebook comment after England’s win over Denmark. “My comment was an off-the-cuff, extremely ill-judged attempt at humour based on wordplay only, that was never intended to be racially insensitive or make light of organisations which have done so much to help raise awareness of inclusion and discrimination,” he said.
Team GB players will take a knee before games at Tokyo 2020. “We were all united in our decision to continue doing whatever we can to raise awareness of racism and discrimination in all its forms,” said manager Hege Riise.
Luton have signed Zimbabwe striker Admiral Muskwe from Leicester for an undisclosed fee.
John Aloisi is the new head coach of Western United, agreeing a flamin’ two-year deal.
And Arjen Robben has cut in on his left foot for the last time in competitive action, reluctantly retiring for a second time. “Dear football friends, I have decided to stop my active football career,” he sighed. “A very difficult choice. I want to thank everyone for all the heartwarming support.”
STILL WANT MORE?
Suzanne Wrack has you covered with all the big moves in women’s football around Europe this summer.
Gaël Clichy gets his chat on with Will Unwin about racism, Pep Guardiola and how to achieve happiness.