BARCELONA, Spain, Aug 27 – Lionel Messi has provoked a football frenzy by announcing he wants to leave Barcelona, the club he joined as a 13-year-old in 2000 and has led to four Champions League titles.
This has been a season of problems, on and off the field for Barcelona, but Tuesday’s declaration of divorce, though more extreme than anything in his past, is not the first sulk in Messi’s 20 years at Camp Nou.
2012: Patience wears thin
Despite a reputation as a discreet and approachable team-mate, the Argentine has repeatedly lost patience with other Barca players.
In September 2012, he gesticulated angrily at Spanish striker David Villa, forced to play on the wing, for failing to cross the ball quickly enough against Granada in La Liga. Messi’s gestures effectively confirmed rumours circulating for several months of tensions between the two, who were no longer speaking to each other.
Once, in training, Messi reportedly told striker Cristian Tello: “You’re new here and you’re nothing at all. Pass me the ball. You’re here to play for me.”
Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez, who arrived in 2011 at a cost of 37 million euros ($53 million at the time), is said to have attracted Messi’s wrath.
“Considering how bad you are, I’ve no idea how you cost so much,” Messi once told Sanchez.
Messi also feuded with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto’o, who both fled to Italy.
2013: Ronaldo makes more, Messi sulks
Already a four-time Ballon d’Or winner and at the peak of his career, Messi signed a five-year contract extension in February 2013, with an estimated salary of 12 million euros. A few months later, his long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo signed a deal with Real Madrid worth 17 million euros a year. The Argentine reacted by demanding a pay rise. Javier Faus, Barca’s vice-president in charge of finance, responded that there was no reason “to improve the contract of someone who already received a rise six months ago”. Messi abandoned his usual media discretion to respond that Faus “knows nothing about football”. The spat ended with Faus making a public apology. “Messi is right, I don’t know anything about football,” he said. “It was just a little misunderstanding that we sorted out with him and his father. We gave him a new contract.” A year later, the Argentine’s salary rose to more than 20 million euros, making him the best-paid footballer in the world.
2015: Told off by Luis Enrique, Messi fuels Chelsea rumours
In January 2015, coach Luis Enrique reportedly interrupted a training session to accuse Messi of making himself “the master of the dressing room”. Luis Enrique relegated Messi to the bench for the next match against Real Sociedad. He did not take part in the next training session, officially for medical reasons. Messi fuelled rumours of his possible departure by following Chelsea, and two of their players, Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis, on Instagram. To this day, he only follows four clubs: Newells Old Boys, where he started, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City.
2017: Tortuous negotiations
By 2017, Messi’s contract was running out and a climate of tension had built up around negotiations. Luis Suarez, Messi’s attacking partner, became involved, calling for the extension “at all costs”. Sporting director Oscar Grau replied that he would use “common sense and discretion”. In the mixed zone after a game in January, Suarez fired back: “What we need to do is extend it, not show common sense.” The soap opera ended when Messi finally signed a deal on November 25 that ran to 2021, and, according to “Football Leaks” documents, lifted his salary to more than 70 million euros. The deal also included a “loyalty bonus” of 70 million euros if Messi sees out the contract.
2020: Abidal upsets Messi
In February, Messi reacted angrily after Eric Abidal, the club’s then sporting director, said players were to blame for the sacking of coach Ernesto Valverde the month before because they were “not giving all they could.” Messi responded on Instagram, telling his former team-mate to “name names” and saying “those in charge of sports management should also face up to their responsibilities”.