One of the men in line to replace Josep Maria Bartomeu says the club cannot afford to keep the Argentine on his current wages
Barcelona presidential candidate Toni Freixa has warned that Lionel Messi will have to take a pay cut to extend his current contract.
Speculation over Messi’s future has been raging since his decision to hand in a transfer request following Barca’s humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner was subsequently linked with the likes of Inter, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain as he sought to trigger the unique release clause in his contract which allows him to leave Camp Nou for nothing at the end of each season.
However, Barca and La Liga made it clear that a legal battle would ensue if Messi continued to push for an exit, leading to him performing a U-turn and pledging to remain in Catalonia for the duration of the 2020-21 campaign.
The continued presence of a talismanic figure has done little to quell a growing sense of unease at Camp Nou though, with mounting financial problems and a tussle for leadership at boardroom level overshadowing the team’s exploits on the pitch.
Barca are reportedly over £700 million ($921m) in debt at the moment, and are planning to take steps to reduce their £1 billion ($1.3bn) wage bill in order to balance the books amid the coronavirus crisis.
Josep Maria Bartomeu and the rest of the club’s directors resigned last month ahead of an impending vote of no confidence, with elections set to take place at the start of 2021 to decide his replacement.
Freixa is one of the men in the running for the presidency, and although he is eager to see Messi commit to fresh terms, he has insisted that Barca cannot afford to continue paying his current wages beyond the end of the season – when his existing contract is set to expire.
“With Leo we will speak calmly, face-to-face with Barcelona’s best at the horizon,” Freixa told El Curubito . “To him, as to all the players who have to renew or sign, we will make an offer that, of course, will not be feasible to match the terms that he has had until now.
“It’s evident, and the members cannot be deceived, that the proposal that will be presented to him will not be the same as the one he has had until now, because income has fallen significantly and it will be necessary to find another formula.
“You don’t have to conquer Messi or convince him with other things. You have to look him in the eye and talk with him to know what each party wants, what he wants and what Barcelona want. We think Messi still has a lot of football left to play.”
Friexa went on to play down the off-field issues at Camp Nou while suggesting that some of his rivals for the presidency have made unrealistic promises with regards to investing in the squad: “There is no such thing as an apocalypse on the horizon that some have talked about and the world is not ending.
“[Barcelona] have 121 years of history and experience. We will move forward. [However, if the signings the other candidates promise] are to happen with Barcelona’s money, I don’t see it so clearly.
“It would be another thing if they pay from their own pockets.”