Lionel Messi | AP
MADRID: Barcelona has not given up hope of seeing Lionel Messi returning to the club despite increasing speculation about a pending move to Saudi Arabia.
The Catalan club continued to work on restructuring its finances to make sure it could afford Messi’s return in case the Argentina star decided to come back to the Spanish league after his stint with Paris Saint-Germain.
PSG announced this past weekend that Messi will not stay at the club for another season, and the player was reportedly mulling lucrative offers from Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia and Inter Miami in the United States.
Barcelona theoretically was also an option, being the club where he grew up and thrived for nearly two decades before leaving to join PSG in 2021 amid the Catalan club’s financial struggles.
Barcelona's finances are in better shape now, but adding Messi to the squad would make it more difficult for the club to meet the Spanish league’s strict financial fair play rules.
“It's not easy, but we'll see,” Barcelona president Joan Laporta said this weekend.
The club was working with the league to make sure it could get an adequate salary cap approved ahead of the new season. It still has to add some players who were registered with the youth squads, including playmaker Gavi, but it gained some important salary cap space with the departure of veterans such as Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.
“I would really like to have Leo back. He knows it, I’ve spoken to him,” Barcelona coach Xavi said. “It would be spectacular, not only for me as a coach, but as a fan as well. He is a spectacular player who could help us in so many different areas. But it’s his decision and I will understand it no matter what happens.”
Laporta has said the club would do everything possible to try to bring Messi back.
After not being able to keep the playmaker and seeing the team struggle, Laporta and his board had to take action and sold off 25% of the club's Spanish league TV rights for the next 25 years, along with other assets. The cash was used to revamp the squad with the signings of players such as Robert Lewandowski, Jules Koundé and Raphinha. The team won the league title this season for the first time since 2019, but it still struggled in the Champions League and the Europa League.
The team’s first title since Messi’s departure had been the Spanish Super Cup in January, when it defeated rival Real Madrid in the final in Saudi Arabia.
The 35-year-old Messi left Barcelona after 17 successful seasons in which he helped the Catalan club win 35 titles, including four Champions Leagues, 10 Spanish leagues and seven Copa del Reys.
While with Barcelona, Messi earned himself a record six Ballon d’Or awards as the world’s top player. He remains the team’s all-time scorer with 672 goals in 778 appearances, and the top scorer in the Spanish league with 474 goals in 520 matches.
Messi was the top scorer in the Spanish league in eight seasons, and the top scorer in the Champions League on six occasions. His 26 goals against Real Madrid are a record for the “clasico” matches against Barcelona’s fiercest rival.
Messi arrived at Barcelona at age 13, when he and his family came to Spain to try his luck at Barcelona’s youth academy. He made his official debut on Oct. 16, 2004, and two years later helped the club win its first Champions League title in a squad led by Ronaldinho.