Spanish newspaper El Mundo over the weekend published the financial terms and conditions of the Argentinian star’s 2017 contract. It showed that Messi tied down for four years for a whopping total of 555 million euros ($674 million) with up to 138 million euros in possible annual earnings including bonuses. The club immediately announced it will pursue legal challenges against the newspaper for publishing the confidential contract.
Speculations began to circulate about the source of the leak, with suspicions falling on Bartomeu, who left the club last year under a cloud of bitter standoff with Messi over the direction of the club.
"It's totally false that I leaked this contract. It's a grave matter and it's totally illegal to leak professional contracts. Talking on TV and accusing is easy, but we're not kidding because this will end up in court,” Bartomeu said in a comment to Catalonia’s Esport3.
Despite his fallout with Messi, Bartomeu went on to say that the six-time Ballon D’Or winner “deserves what he earns both for professional and commercial reasons.”
Speculation linked the Argentine’s mammoth contract to the dire economic straits that the club is going through. President of La Liga, Javier Tebas Medrano, which oversees clubs’ compliance with Financial Fair Play rules and is privy to the financial workings of top-flight outfits, denied that this was the case.
“The delicate financial situation of @FCBarcelona (similar in other big clubs) is not Messi's fault but rather the devastating effects of COVID. Without a pandemic, the revenue generated by the best player in history offset that cost. Some media are not treating this issue fairly,” Tebas said in a tweet after the report was published.
Messi’s dissatisfaction with his boyhood club’s direction came to a head after the embarrassing exit from the UEFA Champions League in August in an 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich. Messi handed in his transfer request but was denied an exit based on contractual terms. He later chose to stay in order to avoid a court case against his lifelong club.
Bartomeu ended up taking the fall, resigning along with his entire board room in late October.
According to the contract shared by El Mundo, Messi stands to pocket 39 million euros by the end of the 2020/21 season regardless of whether he chooses to stay or leave.
El Mundo claims this contract makes Messi the highest-paid athlete in the history of professional sports.