Can a monetary value be put on Lionel Messi's worth? How much would the Barcelona No.10 fetch on the transfer market if he had any interest in leaving the club?
As Argentina prepare to take on Guatemala in a friendly international in Guatemala City on Friday, and Messi faces accusations of tax dodging back in Spain, it is interesting to note some of the financial figures being written about in relation to the world's best footballer.
Thus far, Messi has only changed clubs once in his career, from his boyhood team Newell's Old Boys, in Rosario, Argentina, to Barcelona in Spain. In what would prove perhaps the savviest transfer move of all time, the Catalan club paid no fee for the 13-year-old, but did sweeten the deal by offering to cover the $800-a-month medical expenses he required to treat a growth hormone deficiency.
Messi debuted for the Barcelona first team just three years later and is now, at the age of 25, the club's all-time leading scorer. In retrospect Newell's, who at the time were unwilling or unable to fork out the money required for the boy's treatment, must regret not selling off one of their training pitches or holding a weekly jersey raffle in order to hang on to the prodigy a for a few more years and eventually sell him off for a substantial amount of cash.
The four-time Ballon d'Or winner now commands such massive interest whenever he plays that his involvement in a one-off match, such as the Guatemala-Argentina game, can have a very real impact on potential earnings.
Spanish daily, Sport, reported on Thursday that the sale of tickets for the match had been temporarily suspended due to concerns that "La Pulga" would not recover from a hamstring injury in time to play. Organizers' ticket-sales strategy would depend on the participation of Messi. If the Argentina captain was forced to withdraw from the game, tickets would go back on sale at a discounted price. According to sports daily, Ole, Argentina's football federation will be paid a fee of $1.5 million for the match, but the figure rises to $2 million if Messi takes the field.
As the dominant athlete in the world's most popular sport, it is no surprise that Messi earns a tidy pay packet. With news this week that he's being accused by the Economic Crime Unit of Barcelona of hiding $5.53 million in earnings from tax authorities, Messi's personal finances have come under the spotlight.
In an excellent summation of the player's legal dramas, Agustino Fontevecchia of Forbes also takes a look at his overall earning capabilities. According to the respected business magazine, Messi netted $41.3 million in the last financial year, which consisted of $20.3 million in salary and winnings and $21 million in endorsements. Those figures make Messi the 10th-highest-paid athlete in the world.
Fontevecchia points out that jail time is unlikely for Messi but stresses his value to Barcelona in economic terms is substantial, which goes some way to explaining his astronomical wages:
Beyond Messi, it’s his club, FC Barcelona, that should be worried. Barҫa is the world’s third most valuable soccer team, worth $2.6 billion. The recently minted Spanish champions, like most of the top teams, depend on their superstars to deliver on pitch performance, which ultimately brings in broadcasting, commercial, and match day revenues, the three legs of soccer teams’ business model. Failing to advance into the later stages of the Champions League, or being a contender for La Liga, would greatly damage Barҫa’s earning power.
Aside from hinting that he would like to end his career at Newell's Old Boys, Messi has never expressed any interest in leaving Barcelona. Should that situation change, however, it is clear that a rival club would need to offer a jaw-dropping transfer fee to pry the gifted attacker away from Catalonia. Various sources, including Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian, have reported that Real Madrid are prepared to bid £85 million ($133 million) for Tottenham's Gareth Bale, while Monaco are willing to pay the same amount for Cristiano Ronaldo. If those figures are accurate, where does that put Messi?
Transfermarkt.com puts his market value at £120 million ($188 million). In December of last year, Neil Rowlands of The Mirror cited El Mundo Deportivo when claiming an anonymous Russian club had had a bid of £205 million ($322 million) for Messi rejected.
Those kinds of figures would shatter all previous transfer records, but are they justifiable considering what Messi offers a team? Or can no single player ever be worth that sort of money?
With billionaire owners now involved in the running of football clubs, perhaps such mind-blowing figures are no longer impossible, even if they seem beyond reason. Or perhaps he is simply priceless.