Lionel Messi or Neymar? It appears Barcelona will have to choose one or the other in the very near future.
Spanish newspaper AS (via Fox Soccer) reported that the Argentine star wants a new contract worth €25 million after tax, which would mean a gross salary of €50 million paid by the club.
The more interesting part comes later in the article:
Messi’s desire for a new deal (his seventh since 2005) reportedly stems from Barcelona’s recruitment of Neymar last summer. Neymar joined the club in a complicated and expensive transfer, which effectively made the Brazilian forward Barcelona’s highest-paid player with an annual salary of €18 million to €20 million ($25 million to $28 million/£15 million to £16.7 million).
As soon as Neymar arrived, this was the nightmare scenario—the day Barcelona would have to part ways with Messi.
Looking at the long term, though, having both he and Messi on the same team didn't look sustainable.
Johan Cruyff famously told Marca when the Neymar transfer went through, "I wouldn't put two captains on the same ship." As much as Cruyff is a contrarian and grown more curmudgeonly with age, he was on to something.
The reckoning point was coming sooner or later, and Messi possibly wanting €50 million a year could be the moment that Barca's hand is forced.
It's easy to dismiss this rumor as pure conjecture with no basis in fact.
However, there are a few things to consider.
First is that Messi is more of a careerist than some want to admit.
From the moment to he moved to Barcelona in order to get the growth hormone he needed, to when he reportedly sent a text to then coach Pep Guardiola, via Marca, reading "Well, I can see I'm not important to the team anymore, so..."—which precipitated Zlatan Ibrahimovic's move to A.C. Milan—Messi has been brilliant with the way in which he's handled his footballing career.
He's also been keen to ensure that he's maintained top-dog status, thus it didn't work with Ibra and Barca.
Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Victor Valdes are all undoubtedly leaders in the dressing room and hold a lot of influence, but they all fall behind Messi in the club hierarchy.
The second point to ponder is that Neymar is a very real threat to Messi's standing as the unquestioned alpha male at the Nou Camp.
Barcelona never wanted the particulars of Neymar's contract coming to light, as it would've meant everyone realizing how much the Spanish club iss paying the Brazilian compared to his South American compatriot.
The Guardian's Sid Lowe questioned if the club tried to shroud Neymar's actual salary so as not to cause a rift between it and Messi.
If Messi sees that somebody is making more than he is, it's not far off to think he would take that as a personal slight.
You never want to lose a player the caliber of Lionel Messi, but having Neymar softens the blow. Barcelona have been great at creating succession plans for their biggest stars, so they likely knew that Neymar would eventually make Messi expendable one day.
Even taking Neymar out of the equation completely, you have to wonder whether it makes financial sense for Barca to sign any player for what Messi is reportedly demanding.
There's little question that he deserves to be paid like one of the best players in the world. A price tag of€50 million is an astronomical sum, but in today's game, that's fair value.
Barcelona don't have an treasure chest of money, though. Like every other Spanish club, they carry massive debt. They simply can't afford to be spending €50 million on one player, especially when they need to upgrade the back four following Puyol's imminent departure.
That €50 million and subsequent transfer fee could be much better spent elsewhere. It's a tough decision to make, but it's one that the club president has to make if he's to secure the club's long-term future.
Follow me on Twitter @JosephZucker.
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