An earthquake in European football as Lionel Messi leaves Barcelona
Hi there, I'm Jeff, and this is Plain English, where we help you improve your skills in English with current events, trending topics, and lots and lots of practice. JR is the producer. This is Lesson 394. If you're listening on a podcast app like Spotify or Apple Podcasts, then you're listening to the audio portion only. There's much more to the story on the website at PlainEnglish.com/394.
In today's lesson, Lionel Messi, the Argentine footballer who has played for FC Barcelona for his entire professional career, is on the move. Both he and his former team say they wanted to stay together. But reality intervened, and he is now Paris's new favorite son. The expression we'll talk about is "bid farewell" and you can probably already guess the context.
A Messi breakup, as Argentine star moves to Paris
Argentine footballer Lionel Messi has left Barcelona after over 20 years. He bid a tearful farewell to fans on Sunday, August 8, saying he did everything he could to stay at the only professional club he's ever played for. For their part, FC Barcelona, said they too did everything they could to retain their superstar. But the perilous financial situation of the Spanish clubs, and the rules imposed by La Liga, Spain's top football league, made their continued partnership impossible.
Just hours later, Paris Saint-Germain, the football powerhouse backed by the Qatari government, said it had signed Messi to a two-year contract, with an option for a third year. Messi will be paid 35 million euros per season. He will also be reunited with the Brazilian player Neymar, also one of the world's best footballers. Plus, for at least one year, he will play with Kylian Mbappé, the 22-year-old superstar who helped France win its World Cup back in 2018.
The signing fortified PSG's already strong chances to win this year's Ligue 1 championship in France and to make a deep run for the UEFA Championship, a title PSG has never won. On the Tuesday after news broke, Messi flew to Paris and disembarked from his private plane wearing a shirt saying, "Ici C'est Paris," or "This is Paris," PSG's slogan. Fans cheered him at the airport and again at the PSG stadium, where he was officially introduced as part of the team on Wednesday.
Messi grew up in the province of Santa Fe, in central Argentina. An early football star, he moved to Barcelona at age 13 to join the youth clubs associated with FC Barcelona. He made his professional debut in 2004 and has played uninterrupted for FC Barcelona since that time. Together, Messi and Barcelona won ten Spanish league titles and four Europe-wide UEFA Championship titles. Individually, Messi won six Golden Ball awards, the most prestigious individual award in European football. He also became the top individual scorer in Barcelona's history and set the single-season European scoring record in 2012.
Financial success soon followed. For several years, he was the world's highest-paid football player. In 2019, Forbes estimated he was the world's highest-paid athlete. Last year, he became just the second team-sport athlete in the world to have made over $1 billion in earnings. Last year, he made $97 million for his work on the field and another $33 million in endorsements.
When the time came to re-sign with Barcelona, he signaled that he was willing to take a pay cut to stay with his longtime team. Barcelona, though, was hammered by the recession and its pile of existing debt. The club estimates that it lost $100 million in ticket revenue because of the pandemic. It also owes hundreds of millions of dollars to external investors and to other European football clubs.
Even under these circumstances, the club said it had the financial flexibility to re-sign Messi. But the Spanish league rules say a club cannot spend more than 70 percent of its revenue on player salaries. This rule is intended to prevent rich team owners from buying players that other teams can't afford. To abide by the rule, Barcelona would have had to release too many other players to fit Messi's salary under the cap. In the end, Barcelona blamed La Liga's strict salary rules for its breakup with Lionel Messi.
Other European leagues, however, have no such rules. Two clubs were said to be in the running to sign Messi: Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. Both are financed by oil-rich governments and both have been loading up on expensive players. The winning bidder, PSG, is backed by Qatar, the scorching-hot Middle Eastern nation that will host the 2022 World Cup .
There is another view that doesn't place the blame squarely on Spain's football regulations. According to that view, Barcelona put too much of its energy into the Super League and not enough into coming to an agreement with Messi. They knew a year in advance that his contract would expire on June 30. Yet, they placed a big bet on the Super League and, it seems, lost in more ways than one.
I don't know, though. It's easy for fans to say they could have planned in advance for this, but it's not easy competing with oil money. I think the games are great but like the Olympics, the business side is a lot less great than the competition on the field.