Since 1 July, the best footballer on the planet has been a free agent - not officially contracted to any club and, theoretically, available to sign without a transfer fee.

The contract of Lionel Messi at Barcelonaexpired as June turned into July and for over a month, there has been no official developments over the player’s future.

It has been widely reported that the most iconic player on the planet has had a verbal agreement in place with the Catalan giants, where he has spent the entirety of his career.

With less than two weeks until Barca kick-off their La Liga campaign with a home game against Real Sociedad, Messi is still not registered to be included in the matchday squad.

Lionel Messi's contract at Barcelona expired at the end of June

Messi is one of five players who, as things stand, will not be able to participate in Ronald Koeman’s side’s league opener - with none of the four summer arrivals yet registered with the league.

Eric Garcia, Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay have all signed for the club as free transfers this summer, while Brazil international Emerson Royal has signed permanently after the Blaugrana bought out his €9million co-ownership with Real Betis.

Barca are currently operating above their salary limit - a cap imposed by La Liga, as voted for by its member clubs, that means all clubs must operate within their spending capabilities.

These budgetary limits for each club are based on their earnings, revenue streams, profits and losses, overhead costs, investments and debt repayments.

Audits are carried out on the financial health of every club, with the limits designed to ensure their growth and spending are sustainable and for all outgoings to be justified by income.

As outlined by The Athletic , this year the Blaugrana have a capped limit of £138million (€160m).

Barcelona have been forced to make financial cutbacks (

Image:

AFP via Getty Images)

This is less than a quarter of the figure from the 2019/20 campaign, when it stood at £579 million (€671m) - the biggest wage bill for any sporting club.

As things stand, Barcelona are operating at a figure far in excess of their current restrictions and it is believed they will need to save a whopping €200million before the new season begins.

With the club required to make cuts, any registration of Messi, Aguero, Memphis, Garcia or Emerson will not be processed by the league until the club can justify this fits in with their financial projections.

On Monday, it was reported by Catalan outlet Diario Sportthat a five-year contract has been agreed between the club and Messi, with this carefully structured to fit into the club’s financial needs.

It is claimed that this deal includes a 50 percent wage cut from Messi’s previous deal, although the number of add-ins and potential of staggered wage increases are not outlined.

The club are yet to move on any of their higher earners or first-team regulars from last season, while adding four new players competing for first-team spots - this is despite the requirement for significant financial cutbacks.

Earlier this year, Catalan media outlet La Vanguardia claimed the club’s debt was “out of control” and the debt was described as “runaway” and they attested that austerity was now the “inescapable destiny” of the club.

Yet there are few signs that the club are willing to embrace this austerity - there have been wage cuts for individual players and no transfer fees attached to players being brought into the club, but there seems to be little willingness of embracing the economic reality.

As outlined by Football Espana , the club’s current debt stands at over €1billion (€1,173million) and last month Diario Sport claimed that the captains could not find any agreement with the hierarchy about another round of wage cuts and deferrals.

Joan Laporta was elected Barcelona president in March (

Image:

REUTERS)

President Joan Laporta romped to an election victory in March following a campaign where he made little reference to the club’s financial issues.

Carles Tusquets had been the interim president at Camp Nou following the mass resignations of Josep Maria Bartomeu’s board in October, and he did not hold back on the mess behind the scenes.

Tusquets even went as far as saying that the club should have cashed-in on Messi the previous summer - it would have generated a significant transfer fee whilst also making a significant saving on wages.

Tusquets told Marca : "Economically speaking, last summer I would have sold Messi. It would have been desirable. For what we could have received (in transfer fees) and for what you save (on wages). La Liga demands salary limits."

Lionel Messi wanted to leave Barcelona last summer

The counter-argument is that Messi will generate more money than any outgoings on his income due to his double impact both commercially and in a sporting sense.

Yet Messi is now 34 and his physical limitations will inevitable become increasingly apparent in the coming seasons.

A five-year renewal is a remarkable commitment from Barca and by comparison, many clubs refuse to sanction contracts of over one-year for players in their 30s.

Messi no longer can be part of a coherent attacking pressing system and it is inevitable that his physical limitations will be pushed to the limits if he is asked to play in excess of 40 matches per season.

His presence will continue to restrict what the club are capable of pulling off in the transfer market and means any other teammate is now potentially vulnerable for transfer.

What players should Barcelona sell this summer? Comment below

Antoine Griezmann is likely to leave Barcelona this summer (

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NurPhoto/PA Images)

Barca are keen to offload highest earners Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti and Miralem Pjanic but no club is both willing and able to finance those player’s wage packets, never mind any transfer fees for players whose combined cost for the Blaugrana exceeded €500million.

Three more of the club’s highest earners - Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique - all appear likely to see out their careers at the club and remain an integral part of the first-team squad.

The true sellable assets are players who Barca are desperate to retain - Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Ansu Fati and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.

It is true that if Messi was not at the Camp Nou for this coming season, their chances of success both domestically and in Europe would be significantly reduced - he remains the world’s best player.

Conversely, the club need to continue their rebuilding process and look to the long-term - accept that the next few seasons will be extremely difficult, but such sacrifices will pay off further down the line.

Messi will almost certainly line up for Koeman’s team next season, but what damage may be inflicted by the club’s unwillingness to part with their superstar forward?

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