Atletico Madrid defender Jose Gimenez has signed a new deal with the LaLiga champions until June 2025.

Gimenez has made 216 appearances for Atletico over the past eight seasons, winning the Europa League, Supercopa de Espana, the European Super Cup and two LaLiga titles during that period.

The 26-year-old was due to be out of contract at the Wanda Metropolitano in 2023, meaning the new deal is a two-year extension.

"Atletico de Madrid are delighted to announce that Jose María Gimenez has renewed his contract until June 30, 2025," a club statement confirmed on Thursday. 

Gimenez played 26 times in an injury plagued 2020-21 campaign, including 21 outings in LaLiga as Atleti won the title for a second time under Diego Simeone.

The Uruguay international joins fellow centre-back Stefan Savic in extending his stay in Madrid, the latter's three-year deal having been announced on Wednesday.

Atleti also moved to bring in Rodrigo De Paul during the close-season to strengthen a problem position, while keeping hold of the core group of their squad from last term.

Simeone's side begin their LaLiga title defence away at Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Javier Tebas says it has "hurt" LaLiga to lose Lionel Messi but pinned the blame at the door of Barcelona for refusing to accept a contentious financial arrangement.

LaLiga has struck a €2.7billion (£2.3bn) deal with CVC Capital Partners, one that will see the private equity firm acquire 10 per cent of the commercial business.

In turn, the other 90 per cent of the investment would be used to help cash-strapped clubs across the top two tiers of Spanish football as they cope with the long-term financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both Madrid and Barca have spoken out against the proposal, while on Wednesday the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) insisted it was "totally illegal."

Madrid and Barca allege the agreement includes all clubs' audiovisual rights for the next 50 years, with Los Blancos taking legal action as they were not properly consulted.

However, the deal will go ahead as planned after a general assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour on Thursday, though Barca and Madrid are two of the four clubs to have opted out of the agreement.

Speaking after the proposal was passed, LaLiga president Tebas was adamant Barca could well have kept hold of Messi – who has now joined Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent – had they signed up.

"I don't know exactly what Barca are doing to lower their wage-bill — with the CVC money they would have had around €40m more," Tebas said.

"It could have been for Messi, or others, to make a more competitive squad. We are hurt by Messi leaving, for sure, but there is no clause in any TV deal which sees us get less money without Messi, although it could hurt companies who are looking to add subscribers and fans of the biggest clubs.

"In LaLiga we've always wanted to have the best players but then Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar left and Messi has now left.

"I'd say it's probably been quite traumatic because for a whole month the president of Barcelona kept saying everything was going well and all of a sudden, one afternoon, the whole transaction went down.

"So it's a real shame that Messi has left but we've worked a lot to ensure our value in broadcasting rights doesn't go down.

"I'm convinced that the fans of Barcelona in Spain will still watch Barcelona as well whether or not Messi is playing for them.

"We signed recently an eight-year contract with ESPN and there was no clause that obliged us to have Messi playing for our league. Who knows in eight years' time who is playing in the Spanish league. They're important, the players, and they help, but they're not essential."

Tebas also hit out at Madrid and Barca for "hampering" the process, suggesting the two giants of Spanish football are instead invested in developing a European Super League.

"Everything that LaLiga do, Real and Barcelona try to block it," Tebas said, as reported via The Athletic. "But we keep growing anyway, and it will continue to grow whether all clubs agree to this deal or not.

"Real and Barca do not want the national leagues to develop and grow stronger. That would not benefit their Super League project. They want most of the money to flow to them.

"Real Madrid have been for eight years hampering our attempts to grow LaLiga's TV revenues, [former Barcelona president Josep Maria] Bartomeu was with them in that too."

According to Tebas, CVC are investing to develop the league, rather than salvage the finances of Spanish clubs.

"CVC were interested because of how we have developed, without help from Madrid or Barca. CVC have not come here to bail us out — they are not here because of the pandemic," he said.

"Only 15 per cent of the money can be used to pay off debts, 70 per cent is for investment in infrastructure. So they are not here to bail out Spanish football, but to help build a stronger league."

LaLiga is arguably harder to call than ever before heading into 2021-22 – Barcelona no longer have Lionel Messi to guide the way and Real Madrid have seen significant upheaval, so surely the smart money is on defending champions Atletico Madrid?

Diego Simeone's men won the title in 2020-21 after watching Barca and Madrid trade success for seven years and look in good shape given they've not lost any major players. But can you really write off the 'big two'?

Well, you shouldn't, according to Stats Perform predictions.

The Stats Perform League Prediction Model, created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, has analysed the division ahead of the new season to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The season is then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Without further ado, let's look at what could occur over the 2021-22 LaLiga season.

 

ANCELOTTI DELIVERS THE GOODS

Carlo Ancelotti's back at the Santiago Bernabeu, and so – it seems – will the Spanish title. The Stats Perform model calculates Madrid have a 42.3 per cent chance of taking the crown back from their local rivals.

In fact, if the model proves accurate, Atletico may not even finish in the top two, as their 18.7 per cent chance is a fair bit smaller than Barca's 30.4 per cent likelihood of winning LaLiga.

However, it's worth pointing out that, because the model is based on historical data points and results, the Barcelona that appears here is one that has had Messi in the team for past 17 years.

It's entirely reasonable to expect Barca to see a significant drop-off given they'll no longer have the greatest player of all time on their books – as such, a 30.4 per cent chance of winning the title might actually be quite generous.

THE BIG FOUR?

The 2020-21 season was the tightest LaLiga title fight in recent memory. Although Atletico were 11 points clear at one point, with five matches left there were just three points separating first from fourth.

In that respect, it was the closest title race LaLiga had ever seen in a 20-team campaign (1987-1995, 1997-present) and the least predictable since 2006-07, when Madrid, Barca and Sevilla could all win the league on the final day of the season.

Sevilla's challenge ultimately faded before that stage in 2020-21 but they've managed to keep Julen Lopetegui, their coach, and their squad is largely unaltered for the time being.

The prediction model makes them fourth favourites for the title (6.8 per cent) and far better placed to take the final Champions League spot (69.4 per cent) for the third year in a row than their likeliest challengers Villarreal (36.2 per cent).

There was a 15-point gap between fourth and fifth last season – this is the closest to a 'big four' Spain has had in years.

 

FOUR TIPPED FOR RELEGATION TUSSLE

Rayo Vallecano, Real Mallorca and Espanyol were the three to come up from the Segunda last season. While most people would ordinarily point to the promoted sides as the most likely to be relegated, the prediction model disagrees.

It gives Mallorca a 30.7 per cent likelihood of going straight back down, and Espanyol are at 17.6 per cent – neither of those are among the bottom three, though Rayo (45.9 per cent) are seen as the second favourites to head back to the second tier.

But it's Elche (57.9 per cent) who are the clear front-runners in this regard, and then it looks agonisingly close for the third and final relegation spot.

According to the predictor, it's likely to be neck-and-neck between Deportivo Alaves (41.1 per cent) and Cadiz (41.9 per cent).

Opportunism was the name of the game for Atletico Madrid in 2020-21 and, ultimately, it led them all the way to the title.

First, they pounced on the opportunity to sign Luis Suarez, then Diego Simeone's squad enjoyed a commanding start to the season that left their rivals playing catch-up.

Lionel Messi's situation at Barcelona contributed to the Blaugrana being slow out of the blocks, and although Atletico almost contrived to throw it all away in the latter stages of the season, they proved their resilience in seeing it out.

While opportunism led to success then, this season Atletico arguably find themselves on the cusp of a new, dominant era. Barca are in an even greater mess than 12 months ago and no longer have Messi to bail them out, while Madrid's only major signing has been David Alaba – in contrast, they have lost Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane is Manchester bound too. Add Zinedine Zidane's departure to that and it is very much a picture of transition at the newly refurbed Santiago Bernabeu.

Atletico, meanwhile, have not lost any key players and have even improved their midfield options with the signing of Rodrigo De Paul. It was not so long ago that Simeone's future seemed uncertain, but the past year has brought out a new side in him and that's helped Los Colchoneros reign in Spain.

Flexible Simeone turns over a new leaf

Throughout Simeone's time in charge of Atletico, there has been a common theme – you can either call it consistency or inflexibility, but it essentially depends on whether you are a critic or a fan.

However, it is difficult to say he was inflexible last season by any stretch of the imagination. Now, whether that was decisive in their title triumph is impossible to say, yet it does show Simeone is perhaps not the one-trick pony some insist he is.

For much of his decade at the helm, Simeone has almost religiously set his teams up in a rigid 4-4-2 formation, or at least something not too dissimilar. A back four has been the cornerstone of his systems. According to Opta data, he only ever started a match with a back three or five six times before 2020-21.

Yet, in the championship-winning campaign, Atletico lined up with a back three or five in 23 of their 38 LaLiga matches. Simeone had amassed a group of players with wide-ranging skillsets that aided versatility, and he truly embraced that.

Yannick Carrasco's work-rate saw him turned into a wing-back; Kieran Trippier's arguably suspect defensive capabilities became less of a concern because he was stationed further up the pitch. In attack, Luis Suarez and whoever partnered him – usually Joao Felix or Angel Correa – offered unpredictable movement that often saw them push out wide to create space for Marcos Llorente to run into.

 

Of course, that didn't occur all the time, but it is notable how all 12 of Llorente's goals came from either positions in the box or central positions just outside the area despite a lot of his work coming down the right flank in tandem with Trippier.

This flexibility in the final third also seemed to contribute to their effectiveness off the ball. Their 43 shot-ending high turnovers was bettered by only Barcelona and Eibar, though that figure equated to 15.3 per cent of their total high turnovers (281).

That percentage was better than both of those teams above them in the category, suggesting Atletico were more effective at turning those situations into danger, despite their PPDA of 11.5 only being the 12th lowest in the league.

But the overriding feeling looking back at Atletico in 2020-21 was the only real ammunition Simeone's critics had – that he was inflexible – seems to have lost relevance.

 

De Paul is Simeone's ideal schemer

It was only a matter of time before De Paul sought a new home after an excellent five-year spell in Italy with Udinese. It was there that he got his career back on track after struggling to make much of an impact with Valencia during his previous attempt to succeed in Spain.

He was a regular throughout his five years in Serie A but enjoyed his finest campaign of all in 2020-21, displaying a skillset that looks an ideal fit for the requirements of a Simeone team.

Throughout Simeone's 10 years as Atletico coach, his signings of creative players have tended to be hit and miss, with it a common perception that his intense demands both in training and during matches can sometimes stifle more mercurial talents who are not used to such workloads.

But De Paul, who is comfortable playing both centrally and out wide, has shown plenty of evidence he should be up to the challenge.

 

Providing creativity is De Paul's bread and butter, with his 82 key passes in 2020-21 bettered by only Hakan Calhanoglu (98) in Serie A. Of those chances, 34 came from set-pieces, highlighting his prowess from dead-ball situations and ranking him fourth in Italy's top flight.

Only five players got more assists than his nine, but all of them massively out-performed their modest expected assists (xA) records, which ranged from 3.4 to 6.7. De Paul topped the charts for expected assists with 10.3 xA, evidence that his assists reflected the quality of his service rather than him getting lucky or benefiting from unusually good finishing by team-mates.

Yet the area that highlights a particular compatibility with Atleti is the fact he won more duels (294) than anyone else in Serie A in 2020-21.

Combine that with his league-leading completed dribbles (122) and it paints a picture of a hard-working player who also possesses the quality to get his team on the front foot.

His creativity and dribbling abilities are two facets that Atletico don't necessarily have in abundance in their central midfield options, yet he balances those with a genuine work ethic. De Paul could well be an absolute triumph of a signing.

Joao Felix's time?

Joao Felix's 2019 arrival at the Wanda Metropolitano was met by the clamouring of Simeone critics suggesting this was the signing that would finally see the renowned pragmatist cut loose and suddenly become the entertainer many hoped he could be.

It didn't work out that way. In fact, their haul of 51 LaLiga goals in 2019-20 was the lowest they had managed since scoring just 46 in 2006-07 – they somehow became even tougher to watch.

This did not do much to convince those adamant Simeone was to blame for Joao Felix's form – many people called for the young talent to be given a "free role" that allowed him to play without the shackles normally associated with the coach's disciplined system.

But for a period in 2020-21, there were real signs that Joao Felix was beginning to find his feet. While he was not necessarily roaming as some might have envisioned, his role - being more of a withdrawn forward towards the left - in the first half of last season saw him become one of LaLiga's standout players.

One theory was that Suarez's signing helped Joao Felix significantly. After all, the Uruguayan enjoyed a near-telepathic on-pitch relationship with Messi and has always boasted exceptional off-ball intelligence. He can make great players look even better.

 

For example, prior to Atletico's 1-0 win over Barca at the Wanda Metropolitano on November 21 last year, Joao Felix had already created the same amount of chances for Suarez (four) as he had for anyone else in all of 2019-20.

But it's fair to say the Portugal talent did not manage to maintain his status as a standout player for the full season. Bouts of illness, injuries and a suspension all hampered him after the turn of the year as he made just five of his 14 league starts after January 1. In fact, his final total of starts was seven fewer than in 2019-20.

Joao Felix's productivity was not as impressive as a result. He went from creating 1.5 chances per game to 0.9 and appeared far less willing to run with the ball, attempting 26 dribbles compared to 43 before January 1.

Sure, his assists count went up from two to three, though between January 1 and the end of the season his expected assists (xA) value was just 0.77, suggesting he benefited from some help from his team-mates.

Joao Felix's influence in build-up play did not change dramatically, only going down to 4.0 shot-ending sequence involvements from 4.9, which was not massively better than he managed in 2019-20 (4.64), but he lacked the sharpness to make the difference at the top end of the pitch as often.

Hopefully 2021-22 will have less upheaval for him and allow for greater consistency. With Messi gone, LaLiga needs a new headline superstar – Joao Felix has the talent, but whether Atletico and Simeone can truly harness it is another matter entirely.

Nevertheless, Atleti excelled even when Joao Felix was not hitting the heights expected. As they see Barca and Madrid appearing significantly weaker, Simeone and his players are heading into 2021-22 as the team to beat.

Real Madrid prospect Takefusa Kubo has re-joined Real Mallorca on a season-long loan.

Kubo moved to Madrid on a five-year deal in 2019 before being loaned out in the last two seasons and his most recent temporary switch takes him back to Mallorca.

The 20-year-old played for Mallorca in 2019-20, appearing 35 times in LaLiga, though he could not help the club avoid relegation.

He ranked third in Mallorca's squad for chances created (35) and first for successful dribbles (64), netting four times.

Real Sociedad were reportedly interested but Kubo, who appeared for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics, settled for a return to newly-promoted Mallorca ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Kubo spent last season with Villarreal and Getafe.

He played just 291 minutes at Villarreal but managed eight starts and 802 minutes with Getafe – a more productive spell that he will want to develop upon with Mallorca.

A short club statement on Madrid's official website announced the deal and said: "Real Madrid C. F. and R. C. D. Mallorca have reached an agreement for a season-long loan for Takefusa Kubo, until 30 June 2022."

Atletico Madrid centre-back Stefan Savic has signed a new deal with the Spanish champions, agreeing to extend his stay with the club until June 2024.

Montenegro international Savic has spent the past six seasons with Atletico and played a big part in last term's LaLiga title triumph.

The defender featured 42 times in all competitions in 2020-21 and started 33 of Atleti's 38 league games as Diego Simeone's squad won the title for the second time in seven years.

Atletico kept a clean sheet in 16 of those matches and won 24 of them for a win rate of 72.7 per cent, compared to 40 per cent in the five games Savic did not play a part in.

 

Since making his LaLiga debut in August 2015, no defender has helped their side to more clean sheets in the division than the 30-year-old (72), with Barcelona's Jordi Alba (68) next on the list.

Los Colchoneros confirmed news of Savic's new deal on their official website on Wednesday, four days before they begin their title defence away at Celta Vigo.

Savic, who has also won the Europa League and the Super Cup with Atleti, was previously under contract until 2023.

To paraphrase the apocryphal question asked of Abraham Lincoln's widow, "Aside than that, Mr Laporta, how was the lunch?"

When Lionel Messi jetted into El-Prat last Wednesday, it was to complete the formalities of a long-awaited contract extension that would commit him to the club of his life for the rest of his career.

At least, that's what the six-time Ballon d'Or winner and pretty much everyone else thought until he sat down for lunch with club president Joan Laporta on Thursday. After that, all hell broke loose.

"We had everything agreed but, at the last minute, it couldn't happen," he said at his tearful Sunday news conference, with the rampaging shambles of Barca's financial, internal and political affairs having put paid to the best laid plans.

Messi is now a Paris Saint-Germain player. It will be a jarring thing to type and read for some time, and the claims, counter-claims and recriminations over how Barcelona allowed things to reach this point of collapse will rumble on for some time.

It feels like a barely relevant sidenote that four days on from their greatest ever player addressing the media and being paraded around Paris, Barcelona will host Real Sociedad to begin their LaLiga campaign. What, if anything, can Ronald Koeman and his players salvage from the wreckage?

 

The Barcelona Way

The delayed election campaign that secured Laporta's return to the top job – his initial term between 2003 and 2010 having overseen the transformative tenures of Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola – was a fraught one for Koeman.

Victor Font, one of Laporta's rival candidates, pledged to bring in club great Xavi if he was successful, while the eventual winner's support for Koeman was tenuous and conditional at best.

After a chaotic 2019-20 season, where Ernesto Valverde's lamentable sacking cleared the way for Quique Setien to surrender LaLiga to Real Madrid and oversee the humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, Koeman was not a universally popular choice and easily viewed a stop-gap appointment.

Whereas Messi wanted to stay but had to leave this time around, last August he wanted to leave but had to stay – relations with Laporta's predecessor Josep Maria Bartomeu having broken down. On the field, the Blaugrana were inevitably a little bit all over the place.

But after a chastening 2-1 loss to Cadiz on December 5, Barcelona and a rejuvenated Messi went 19 games unbeaten in LaLiga. It was almost enough for an unlikely title success, but the run ended with a 2-1 defeat away to Real Madrid on April 10.

Koeman lost both Clasicos and his Barca only took a point from Atletico Madrid, failing to score in either game against the eventual champions. There were heavy Champions League losses to Juventus and PSG, and Koeman's record in big games was and is an obvious concern.

Yet, it was fairly bizarre to see the Dutchman treated with such disregard during the electioneering, which ran parallel to the long undefeated streak. After tinkering with various formations earlier in the season, Koeman had settled upon a 3-4-3 in which his team thrived.

Nevertheless, in May, it was reported by Mundo Deportivo that Laporta demanded Koeman commit to Barca's classic 4-3-3 and brand of football married to the club's traditions. A stay of execution would be dependent upon one of Johan Cruyff's former disciples committing to the Barcelona Way.

Back to the future

Looking at their performances from last season, it is easy enough to spot elements of classical Barcelona in Koeman's side.

They scored the most goals in LaLiga and had the highest expected goals (xG) figure of any team, indicating they cumulatively created a better quality of chances than their rivals.

The way they got to this point was also very Barca.

No side in LaLiga had a higher average sequence time than the Blaugrana's 14.27 seconds, while their average of 5.52 passes per sequence was also a league best. They were the only team to average above five.

In terms of sequences featuring 10 or more passes, they were streets ahead with 910. The next most 10+ pass sequences came from Madrid with 662. As a consequence, Barcelona also ranked top for build-up attacks – open-play sequences of 10 or more passes that end either with a shot or a touch in the opposition box.

Now as then in the glory days of Guardiola, you spend a lot of time chasing the ball against Barcelona.

Pedri enjoyed a breakout campaign so good he's only just been allowed to finish it, shining for Spain at Euro 2020 and the Olympic Games, while the evergreen Sergio Busquets ticked away in his customary style to average 95.52 passes per game. The next best midfielder in LaLiga on that metric was Madrid's Toni Kroos on 85.76.

 

Frenkie de Jong developed a knack of chiming in with some important goals from midfield after the turn of the year, while also showing his versatility by slotting into the back three when injuries and circumstances required.

Consider the presence of Riqui Puig and teenage sensation Gavi and the "take the ball, pass the ball" part of the Cruyffian legacy remains in safe hands, albeit with the fairly large assumption that there remains room for all of them on the accounts.

Pressing concerns

The other key facet of the teams in which Messi rose to his place at the top of the world game was their work without the ball.

Teams being at their most vulnerable in transition is now an accepted reality of the modern game, but Guardiola's Barcelona swarming opponents as soon as they lost the ball altered perceptions of what was required of elite teams in terms of intelligent commitment to the cause.

Barca operated under their six-second rule, which had nothing to do with anybody dropping food on the floor. They attempted to retrieve possession within six seconds of losing it via immediate and intensive pressing. If this was not possible, they would fall back into a defensive shape to guard against opponents now settled in possession and more able to play through the press.

Pressing methods and teams' aptitude in dealing with them have obviously evolved since Barcelona scared the life out of European football a little over a decade ago, but the principles remain. If a team wishes to play a high-possession game with a high defensive line, their defending from the front as to be impeccable.

In 2020-21, Koeman's side were merely quite good in this regard. Passes per defensive action (PPDA) is a metric that indicates how well a team presses. The lower the average number of passes an opponent is allowed to make outside the pressing team's defensive third before being met with a defensive action – such as a tackle, interception or a foul – the better the press.

Barca's 10.6 PPDA put them sixth best in LaLiga last season, below Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad, Sevilla, Getafe and Real Betis. Although they scored the most goals from high turnovers (seven), this can be attributed to the sharp finishing of Messi and others, as their 37 shot-ending high turnovers were only the eighth highest.

They are not numbers that suggest Laporta's fantasy of seeing a whirring 4-3-3 back in motion is one grounded in reality. By comparison, Luis Enrique's "MSN" Barca of 2014-15 averaged a staggering 7.0 PPDA. Had Messi remained, his capacity to do this sort of work is diminished, but that is now a puzzle for Mauricio Pochettino to solve.

Messi's great friend Sergio Aguero is one of the attacking reinforcements, although a calf injury means he will be sidelined for 10 weeks. If the masterful Argentina striker's body still allowed him to press with suitable intensity, he would probably still be with Guardiola at Manchester City.

 

Memphis Depay is fit to start the new season and some of the onus will fall upon the Netherlands international to sharpen Barca up a little.

He comes from a Lyon side who forced more shot-ending high turnovers than any other in Ligue 1 last season (62), while his 25 instances of winning possession back in the final third placed him joint fifth among forwards in the French top-flight. 

Antoine Griezmann won the ball 24 times deep in opposition territory last term in LaLiga, alongside 37 tackles and 100 recoveries, all of which were highs among Barca forward. He and Depay could certainly prove a useful nuisance in tandem.

Getting on with the job

Of course, it is not entirely certain Barcelona will be able to register Depay with LaLiga in time to face Real Sociedad, such is their parlous financial state.

Laporta claims this will not be a problem. But then, he said he'd re-sign Messi and essentially ran for election on a pledge he spectacularly failed to fulfil.

If it turns out Barca passed up on Messi because they decided to reject LaLiga's deal with CVC Capital Partners and its associated cash injection in favour of remaining in cahoots with Real Madrid and Florentino Perez's doomed Super League project, it's unlikely holding Laporta to account over whether or not Koeman plays 4-3-3 will be the top of anyone's agenda. It should be noted Madrid president Perez said it was "impossible" for him to have had such an influence, in response to allegations levelled by former Espai Barca Commission member Jaume Llopis.

One of the major reservations surrounding Koeman's appointment was whether he was the man to win Messi more Champions Leagues, with the clock ticking on the great man's career.

 

This might feel like an absurd grasp for positives and Koeman would be better off if the greatest player of all time was in his squad, but he is at least without one of the big over-arching narratives that Barca have specialised in both constructing and crushing themselves with over recent years.

Valverde was saddled with "only" winning LaLiga as European glory painfully slipped away. If Koeman can wrest back domestic control in these conditions, it would be recognised as a brilliant achievement in its own right. The atmosphere among fans back in Camp Nou might be perilous in the initial post-Messi weeks, but a few wins will place a defiant siege mentality within reach.

Since Cruyff was appointed head coach in 1988, this will be the first season without the late Dutch master, Guardiola or Messi – those three giants of the modern Barcelona – having any active association with the club. It is time for an institution on its knees to let go and turn the page.

Koeman put together a team that functioned well amid considerable turbulence last season and should be allowed to improve upon that template with the fine players that still remain, free from any Mes Que Un Club self-flagellation as Laporta tends to the dumpster fire he inherited and chucked a vat of petrol all over last week.

LaLiga's deal with CVC Capital Partners has been labelled "totally illegal" by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

The €2.7billion (£2.3bn) arrangement that was announced last week would see private equity firm CVC acquire 10 per cent of the league's commercial business.

The other 90 per cent of the investment was earmarked to boost cash-strapped clubs in the top two tiers of Spanish football amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the deal – which must be approved by two thirds of the 42 clubs involved at Thursday's general assembly – was heavily criticised by Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Madrid and Barca allege the agreement affects all clubs' audiovisual rights for the next 50 years, with Los Blancos threatening to take legal action against LaLiga and president Javier Tebas as they were not properly consulted.

In a long statement released on their official website on Wednesday, the RFEF said it is also totally opposed to the proposal that has been put forward.

The statement read: "This operation, carried out with the absence of the slightest publicity and concurrence in the selection of the successful bidder, has two parts. The one related to the commercialisation of audiovisual rights, on the one hand; and the rest of the LNFP businesses, which make up a heterogeneous group, on the other.

"Regarding the agreements between the LNFP and CVC related to the audiovisual rights of sports clubs and corporations, the RFEF must express its opposition. 

"Not only for legal reasons, which will undoubtedly generate numerous litigation derived from the agreement and may put its own viability in doubt, since it is intended to force some legal institutions to the extreme; but also for economic reasons, since the rights of clubs and SADs are heavily taxed for the next fifty years in exchange for a small amount of money. 

"But the most important thing is that the agreement increases inequality and, in a capital and definitive way, makes a reasonable evolution of the format of professional football competition in Spain impossible. 

"Causing that in practice and in application of the agreement the competition is petrified without the possibility of evolution or can only be modified when a third party outside the sports structure so decides or agrees, a fact that flagrantly violates the law and the European sports model. 

"In addition, forget about the clubs that play non-professional competitions that, at the time of their promotion to professional competition, will see that their income is reduced by CVC's remuneration, without having obtained any benefit from the contribution of that entity."

The RFEF also claims the agreement with CVC does not account for the clubs who will be promoted to LaLiga further down the line, which would see their income reduced if not paid upfront.

"If there are clubs who, with their own rights, wish to indebt themselves voluntarily, they are free to do so, whether at market rates or extortionate ones, but not through a totally illegal agreement which obliges everyone else, via a false attribution on the part of the LNFP of rights it does not own," the statement continued.

"We consider this attempt to bypass the law and create an agreement which is economically dreadful and deplorable in terms of the future of Spanish football while, in contrast, excellent for an investment fund and other possible beneficiaries.

"The RFEF must also warn that it will not allow during these 50 years any reduction in the contribution from audio-visual rights given to the lower tiers of football."

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has denied claims that he played a part in Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca announced last week that their greatest ever player would not be staying on at Camp Nou, despite agreeing terms for a new contract.

Messi's 21-year association with the Catalan giants formally came to an end on Tuesday when putting pen to paper on an initial two-year deal with PSG.

Barca president Joan Laporta insists the club did all that they possibly could to keep hold of the Argentina captain, but "financial and structural obstacles" stood in the way.

However, ex-Espai Barca Commission member Juame Llopis claimed this week Laporta was convinced by CEO Ferran Reverter and Madrid chief Perez to let the forward leave in order to free up funds.

The comments were made after LaLiga announced a €2.7billion deal with CVC Capital Partners to boost clubs, with 90 per cent of the investment earmarked for their use.

Llopis, who resigned from his post after Messi's departure, told Cadena SER: "The new CEO [Reverter] is in charge. 

"I know that everything has to go through the CEO, everything has to be signed by the CEO and not the president.

"The CEO threatened Joan Laporta with his resignation, and he has an ironclad contract, if he signed [LaLiga's deal] with CVC.

"Laporta was pressured by his CEO and, on the other hand, Florentino convinced him. 

"Between the two of them they convinced him that he has to kick Messi out [of Barcelona] and not sign with CVC."

Madrid and Barca have since stated their objections regarding the CVC deal due to a disagreement over audiovisual rights.

And Perez has now issued a statement in response to Llopis' remarks, insisting it was "impossible" for him to have any sway over Messi's future at Camp Nou.

"Given the statements made by Jaume Llopis, a former member of the Espai Barca Commission, I want to state the following," the statement read. 

"It is flatly false that he has been friends for a long time with the CEO of FC Barcelona, ​​Ferran Reverter, since he is a person with whom I have only met twice in my life.

"One of those occasions was four months ago and the other last Saturday at the meeting that took place in Barcelona with President Joan Laporta and President Andrea Agnelli. 

"That was after the official communication on Messi had already taken place. 

"Therefore, it is impossible for me to have had any influence either on Messi's departure or on any other FC Barcelona decision. 

"So, I hope that Jaume Llopis rectifies these statements that do not correspond to the truth as soon as possible."

Madrid kick off their 2021-22 LaLiga campaign with a trip to Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

Lionel Messi has targeted Champions League glory with Paris Saint-Germain after finalising a "complicated" exit from Barcelona.

The Argentina international's 21-year association with Barca officially ended on Tuesday when joining PSG on a two-year deal with the option of a third.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi looked certain to sign a new long-term deal at Camp Nou, but financial complications at the LaLiga club forced him out of the door.

Less than a week after Barca announced the 34-year-old was to leave, he was unveiled as a PSG player at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday.

Reflecting on a whirlwind week, Messi admits it was difficult departing the only club that he has represented in his career to date.

"It's been a very hard moment after so many years," he said at a news conference. "It was a difficult change after so much time. But the moment I arrived here I felt very happy. 

"I'm really enjoying my time in Paris and want to begin training now, starting this new moment in my life.

"The club were really quick with negotiations. It's been a really easy process, even if it was a tricky situation. I want to thank them for sorting out any problems."

 

He added: "Everything that happened to me this week has been very strange. It's been emotional. I can't forget what I lived and experienced at Barcelona.

"But I feel impatient and ready for this new life with my family. I'm very happy. This whole week I've been going through up and downs, but we are processing all of this little by little every day. 

"I was in Barcelona when the press talked about the move. The people in Paris were already outside. It was incredible to see them in the streets. I really want to see them in the city, in the stadium. It will be an incredible year."

Messi departs Barcelona having scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more for the Catalan giants across 778 appearances.

He won 35 trophies at Camp Nou, including four Champions League triumphs.

PSG have never won the competition, coming closest to doing so last year when losing to Bayern Munich in the final, but Messi is hopeful of lifting the famous trophy once again.

"I still want to play and I still want to win, as I did at start of my career," he said of his ambitions with the French giants. "This club it is ready to fight for all the trophies.

"That is my goal. I want to keep growing and winning titles. That's why I came here to this club. I hope we can make it happen."

 

Asked specifically about PSG's Champions League hopes, Messi said: "This team is ready. There are some new transfers, but they have been close and are ready to win it.

"I have just come here to help. My dream is to win this trophy again and I think Paris is the best place to do so.

"It was very complicated to exit Barcelona without knowing where I would go. Barcelona was my home since I was a kid. 

"I knew I'd arrive in a strong team that was aiming to win the Champions League, which I love to win. I know my goals and Paris' goals are the same. 

"It's difficult to win it, you need a strong group. Luck is also a factor. Sometimes the best team in the world does not win. We want to win the Champions League."

Messi may cross paths with Barcelona in UEFA's showpiece competition this coming campaign, potentially giving the superstar forward a chance to sign off at Camp Nou in front of supporters.

"It would be very nice to go back, hopefully with fans," Messi said. "It would be very strange to play at home, there in Barcelona, in another shirt, but it could happen."

For Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League rivals, the most daunting thing is that they have seen this all before.

Lionel Messi has been unveiled as the Ligue 1 giants' latest superstar signing, reuniting him with friend and former team-mate Neymar at the Parc des Princes.

As Barcelona did between 2014 and 2017, though, PSG have more besides the great Argentina and Brazil number 10s.

At Camp Nou, Luis Suarez arrived from Liverpool to quickly link up with his two fellow forwards and fire Barca to European glory.

This time, Kylian Mbappe, already at PSG, is the third man in a frightening front line.

On paper, it is a terrifying prospect, but can the PSG trio work together as Barca's famous 'MSN' did for three years?

Goals and assists galore

Across the three seasons Messi, Suarez and Neymar played together in Catalonia, the three players ranked first (149), third (128) and joint-sixth (89) for goal involvements in Europe's top five leagues.

Only four players registered both 30 goals and 30 assists in that period and three of them played for Barca. Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, was the other.

Barca and Ronaldo's Real Madrid accounted for six of the 10 highest-scoring LaLiga seasons by a team in the competition's history over the space of those three years.

Spanish football has never before or since been as exciting – and Messi, Suarez and Neymar (and Ronaldo) were at the forefront, pushing one another on.

In that time, Messi and Suarez combined for a goal every 198 minutes in the league (36 in total from 144 chances created together). Messi and Neymar between them created 2.1 chances for one another per 90 minutes, resulting in 22 assists, while Suarez and Neymar were also an effective combination with 26 assists.

 

Messi and Neymar had already had a single season together in 2013-14, so it was Suarez's seamless introduction that was most impressive. His 43 assists over those three years tied with Messi and trailed only Kevin De Bruyne (47).

This time it is Messi's turn to join an established duo, with Neymar and Mbappe setting an alarming standard in their limited time together on the pitch.

Injuries to Neymar have limited them to 3,552 minutes – less than half as many as Messi and Suarez over a longer period – but they have combined for 102 chances (2.6 per 90) and 21 assists (one every 169 minutes).

Missing the middle man

The similarities in this context are clear, but Mbappe and Suarez are very different players in a number of ways, including their positioning. Messi and Neymar have changed their roles since they first combined, too, and that is why this front three might require a little work at first.

In 2014-15, their first season together at Barca, the Blaugrana trio's touch maps told the tale of a balanced forward line.

A huge 60.1 per cent of Neymar's touches were on the left flank in the attacking half, with 33.4 per cent concentrated in an area just outside the box.

With the former Santos man staying left, Messi and Suarez were able to link up across the rest of the final third. Messi started from the right but took 22.5 per cent of his touches in the very centre of the attacking half, the same zone in which Suarez enjoyed 17.9 per cent of his touches.

Suarez, with 20.4 per cent of his touches on the left wing in the final third and 23.1 per cent on the right, was capable of drifting out to either side to create space but would rarely occupy these spaces for an extended period. That is a crucial contrast to Mbappe.

Mbappe last season took 57.9 per cent of his touches on the left flank in the attacking half, with only 11.6 per cent on the right. That left-sided share actually dwarfed Neymar's 46.3 per cent in the same position, indicating both their lack of playing time together and a slightly freer role for the world's most expensive player.

 

Indeed, the natural striker is the one of the three PSG forwards who uses the least of his touches through the centre. Messi, like Neymar, has become even more of a central figure since breaking away from the 'MSN' attack, last term taking 25.1 per cent of his touches in a central position just outside the box.

These touches speak to a fluid PSG approach, but they may need Mbappe to stretch the play down the middle and provide a focal point – something Suarez did that suits neither Messi nor Neymar.

Pressing from the front

Barca's front three of 2014-15 were not just brilliant in possession, they were also an effective force without the ball, winning it back to quickly get on the attack once more.

Luis Enrique's men allowed just 7.0 passes per defensive action (PPDA), not letting their opponents rest and forcing 370 high turnovers that contributed to starting their attacks 44.7 metres upfield on average.

PSG are starting from a slightly lower, if still impressive, base in a pressing sense this season. They allowed 8.9 PPDA and forced 337 high turnovers to start attacks 43.7 metres upfield on average.

It is likely Mauricio Pochettino, who employed a pressing game at Tottenham, will want to move up another gear in his first full season at the club, but that might be easier said than done with the players at his disposal.

In 2014-15, Messi led all LaLiga forwards in winning possession 37 times in the final third. Neymar (26) was second and Suarez (16) joint-11th. Across Europe's top five leagues, only Karim Bellarabi (also 37) could match Messi in this regard.

Messi has never since tallied as many final-third recoveries, with that rate of 1.0 per 90 now halved to 0.5 at the age of 34.

Neymar, in limited minutes, reached a new high by winning possession 1.3 times per 90 in 2020-21, yet his tackle rate of 0.9 is considerably down on 2014-15's high of 1.5.

Mbappe twice recovered the ball in the final third in PSG's opening league game of this season against Troyes and last year peaked with 23 such examples across the campaign, but they counted among 59 total possession gains – Messi and Neymar each passed 100 in 2014-15.

So, a revival of that devastating Barca press in Paris seems unlikely at this stage, even if Messi and Neymar, with a new partner, look primed to thrill again.

Whether the silky interplay is as effective without the other side of the game is a query that should be answered by May.

Paris Saint-Germain have once again rocked the world of sport after they confirmed the signing of Lionel Messi.

As bizarre as that may look written down, the deal is complete with the Argentina forward signing a two-year deal following his Barcelona departure.

Barca announced last Thursday that their dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under LaLiga's salary restrictions after his previous contract expired in June. He had spent his entire career at Camp Nou.

But the Parc des Princes now beckons and he will form probably the most-feared front three in world football alongside Kylian Mbappe and his old friend Neymar.

It's with the Brazilian where Stats Perform starts in this look at a selection of other sporting deals that shocked the world.

 

Neymar: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 2017

The Brazilian had formed a potent attacking trio with Messi and Luis Suarez at Camp Nou but a move to PSG was inevitable when the French side met his world-record buyout clause of €222million. He has played an important role in their continued dominance of French domestic football but has so far been unable to guide them to Champions League glory. He was reduced to tears by his side's 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2020 final and then failed to inspire the team in the 2021 semis as Manchester City knocked them out. But maybe Messi will be the final piece of the puzzle...

LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat, 2010

Basketball icon James announced he would sign with the Miami Heat instead of returning to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a six-time All-Star, James added to the spectacle of the stunning move by announcing it on a special television broadcast called The Decision. He enjoyed four years in Miami, where he won a pair of NBA titles, before returning to the Cavaliers in 2014. 

Tom Brady: New England Patriots to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2020

Few people expected Brady to leave the Patriots after 20 years and six Super Bowl victories. Not only did one of the game's greatest ever quarterbacks leave, but he joined one of the least successful franchises in NFL history and instantly guided them to glory, leading the Buccaneers to the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy with a 31-9 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

Luis Figo: Barcelona to Real Madrid, 2000

Should Messi ever return to Camp Nou as an opposition player it is unlikely he will be on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that greeted Figo. Barca fans threw bottles, lighters and even a pig's head at the Portuguese star when he went back to Camp Nou with Los Blancos in the seasons following his controversial move. 

Wayne Gretzky: Edmonton Oilers to Los Angeles Kings, 1988

In 1988, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings agreed a deal that shook the NHL to its core. The trade left Canada in disbelief, with a member of the country's parliament even proposing the federal government block the trade or buy Gretzky's contract and sell it to another Canadian team. "The Great One" would go on to enjoy eight successful years in Los Angeles before spells with St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

Lionel Messi is a Paris Saint-Germain player. It may still seem a bit hard to take in, particularly as such a scenario looked so unlikely as recently as last week, the deal is complete.

Messi has signed a two-year deal at the Parc des Princes and will form probably the most-feared front three in world football alongside Kylian Mbappe and his old friend Neymar.

Barcelona's dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under LaLiga's salary restrictions.

Messi's contract expired at the end of June and, although Barca president Joan Laporta confirmed the two parties had reached an agreement, the numbers made a deal impossible. The Blaugrana chief confirmed at a monumental press conference that the deal to keep the talismanic forward at Camp Nou was dead.

Step forward PSG. Just as they gutted Barca four years ago when triggering Neymar's release clause to leave them utterly helpless, the Parisians have swooped in again and wasted no time about it. A matter of hours had passed between Laporta's news conference and the emergence of widespread reports suggesting Paris beckoned.

What Messi goes on to achieve in France remains to be seen, but using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at some of the incredible feats that have make him such a colossal signing for PSG.

 

Messi played 778 games for Barcelona in all competitions, scoring 672 goals and providing 265 assists across those games. That amounts to 937 goal involvements during his Barca career, which began as a 17-year-old.

Previously a one-club man, his first appearance for Barcelona came under Frank Rijkaard against Espanyol in October 2004, while his first goal arrived seven months later against Albacete at Camp Nou from a Ronaldinho assist.

Brazil great Ronaldinho was the last Barcelona player to wear the famed number 10 before Messi took that shirt in 2008 and made it his own.

But Ronaldinho does not feature among the top assisters for Messi goals, a list that is led by Luis Suarez (47). Dani Alves assisted 42 of the attacker's goals and third is Andres Iniesta with 37, six more than fellow legendary midfielder Xavi.

 

Messi played under eight different coaches during his time with Barcelona. Of those, he featured most often (219 appearances) and scored the most goals (211) during Pep Guardiola's tenure.

However, the 60 goals Messi scored in 50 games under the late Tito Vilanova – an average of 1.20 goals per match – was his best goals-per-game return with a single coach.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Messi's lowest average goals-per-game ratio was during the Rijkaard era at the start of his career (0.38), followed by the 0.63 managed under Quique Setien between January and August 2020.

 

Messi's most prolific season as a Barcelona player was in 2011-12 when scoring a remarkable 73 goals in all competitions and providing a further 28 assists, setting a personal record in both categories.

Indeed, the forward netted 79 goals for his club across the calendar year in 2012, which is a record amount by a single player. His next most prolific year was 2010 when registering 58 times.

In more recent years, Messi managed 51 goals in 2016, 50 goals in 2017, 47 goals in 2018, 45 goals in 2019 and 26 goals in 2020 – a steady decline that he had already rectified this year, having scored 28 times in the first half of 2021.

He is the only player to have scored 10 or more goals in LaLiga in 15 consecutive seasons.

 

Messi's 672 goals for Barcelona were scored against 82 different teams. Sevilla were his favourite opponent, finding the net against them 38 times in 43 appearances.

Atletico Madrid were next on that particular list, with Messi bagging 32 goals in that fixture, followed by Valencia (31), Athletic Bilbao (29) and bitter rivals Real Madrid (26), making him the leading all-time scorer in El Clasico.

In terms of individual goalkeepers, Diego Alves was Messi's most-frequent victim, the former Almeria and Valencia man having conceded 21 goals against the Argentina superstar.

Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas was joint-third with 17 goals against, one less than the 18 Messi put past Gorka Iraizoz.

 

Messi is of course synonymous with Camp Nou, a ground where he has scored 394 goals in 381 games at an average of 1.03 per match. Madrid fans will be particularly sick of him as he has scored 15 times in 22 games at the Santiago Bernabeu – his second favourite venue.

That is followed by Vicente Calderon, Atletico's old home (14 goals in 20 appearances). Deportivo La Coruna's Riazor (13 in eight) and Sevilla's Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan (13 in 18) complete the top five.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Messi has played more times at Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena (three) without scoring than at any other stadium for Barcelona. He is also without a goal in two trips to English grounds Anfield and Old Trafford.

 

Messi's other notable records and achievements

– Messi is the all-time LaLiga top scorer with 474 goals and is the second-highest scorer ever in Europe's top five leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (476).

– He scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013, a record for a player in the competition's history.

– The Newell's Old Boys product is one of only two players to reach 100 goals in Champions League history (120), alongside Cristiano Ronaldo (134).

– Messi was the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match, doing so against Bayer Leverkusen in March 2012 at Camp Nou.

– The Argentina forward is one of six players to score more than 50 goals in Copa del Rey's history and the only one to score in six different finals in the tournament (Telmo Zarra scored in five).

The Lionel Messi transfer saga is over after Paris Saint-Germain confirmed the signing of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Despite becoming a free agent at the end of June, the Barcelona legend was expected to sign a new contract with the Catalan club, reportedly agreeing a 50 per cent reduction in wages.

However, due to Barca's dire financial situations and LaLiga's salary restrictions, Messi and the Spanish giants had to part ways.

With Messi – who scored a staggering 672 goals for Barca in all competitions – remaining unattached, PSG quickly swooped in and sealed the forward's signature, assembling a formidable front trio that also boasts Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

So, how did it all come to this? The timeline below shows it has been quite the soap opera.
 

January 13, 2020 – Despite the club being top of LaLiga, Barca confirm the dismissal of Ernesto Valverde four days on from a Supercopa de Espana defeat to Atletico Madrid. Quique Setien is appointed as head coach on a two-and-a-half-year contract, with a supposed return for Blaugrana legend Xavi failing to come to fruition.

February 3, 2020 – In an interview with Catalan publication Sport, sporting director Eric Abidal says the club had begun considering Valverde's future after the 0-0 draw with Real Madrid on December 18. He adds that he and his colleagues identified "many players weren't satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem".

February 4, 2020 – Messi hits back at Abidal, calling on him to name individuals rather than tar every player with the same brush. Writing on Instagram and highlighting a section of Abidal's quotes, Messi says: "I honestly don't like to do these things, but I think everyone has to be responsible for their tasks and take care of their decisions. The players [are responsible for] what happens on the pitch and we are also the first to recognise when we are not playing well. Those responsible for the area of​​ sports management must also assume their responsibilities and especially for the decisions they make. Finally, I think that when talking about players we should give names, because if not we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren't true." Furthermore, ESPN report Messi has been playing through a thigh problem for a number of weeks after the club failed to sign attacking reinforcements and let Carles Perez and Abel Ruiz leave after Luis Suarez was ruled out for four months.

March 30, 2020 – Amid the coronavirus lockdown, Messi confirms the players agreed to a 70 per cent pay cut. However, he makes it clear he is unhappy about pressure put on them. He posts on Instagram: "Much has been written and said about the Barcelona team in regards to the salaries of the players during this state of emergency. We want to clarify that our will has always been to take a cut in the salary we receive, because we fully understand that this is an exceptional situation and we are always the first ones to help the club when asked. Therefore, it does not surprise us that from within the club there were those who tried to put us under pressure to do something we always knew we would do. The agreement has been delayed for a few days because we were looking for a formula to help the club and its workers during these difficult times."

July 16, 2020 – Barca suffer a shock 2-1 home defeat against Osasuna, handing Madrid the league title. Messi makes his dissatisfaction known, saying that they must improve quickly or risk Champions League elimination in their last-16 second leg against Napoli. In a post-match interview, he tells Movistar: "People are losing patience after defeats to Roma and Liverpool in recent years. We need a break and forget about this if we want to fight for the Champions League. We need to change a lot, otherwise we will also lose against Napoli. I already said before that playing like this we won't be able to fight for the Champions League and you see, we could not even fight for the league. We need to be self-critical."

August 14, 2020 – While they managed to get past Napoli despite an unconvincing performance, Barcelona are thrashed 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final. It is their heaviest defeat in European competition and the most goals they have conceded in a single game since 1946.

August 17, 2020 – Setien is sacked by the club and presidential elections are brought forward to March as the club signals its intention to rebuild. It is reported that the majority of the first team are put for sale.

August 18, 2020 – Sporting director Abidal is relieved of his duties a day after informing Setien his time with the club was up.

August 19, 2020 – Barca icon Ronald Koeman is appointed head coach on a two-year contract. He said of Messi upon being presented to the media: "He is a Barcelona player. He has another year [on his contract]. I don't know if I have to convince him to stay."

August 22, 2020 – Tensions increase as Argentine publication Clarin claims Messi is furious that details of a meeting with Koeman were leaked to the media. RAC1 had reported Messi told the new coach he is 'more outside the club than inside' and he had little faith in president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Koeman is alleged to have said to Messi: "The privileges in this squad are over, you had to do everything for the team. I'm going to be inflexible; you must only be thinking about the team."

August 24, 2020 – Messi's close friend Suarez is one of four players – the others being Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti – supposedly told by Koeman they have no future at the club. Suarez, Vidal and Rakitic all subsequently depart.

August 25, 2020 – Messi informs Barca he intends to leave the club, using a clause in his contract to exit on a free transfer, via burofax. Manchester City promptly emerge as favourites for his signature.

August 30, 2020  – LaLiga claims the €700million release clause in Messi's Barca contract remains valid and must be paid for his deal to be terminated unilaterally. On the same day, Messi fails to report for pre-season coronavirus testing.

September 4, 2020  – Messi confirms he will stay at Barcelona for the final year of his contract in an emotional interview, in which it is all too apparent his preference would have been to leave.

October 27, 2020  – Pressure on the board persists with the clock ticking on that deal. Even with presidential elections on the horizon, in which he would not be able to stand for a third term, Bartomeu faces a vote of no confidence and instead announces his resignation, along with the entire Barcelona board. The outgoing president claims the club have begun proceedings to join a European Super League.

December 22, 2020  – Joan Laporta, previously president between 2003 and 2010, emerges as the leading candidate for the March elections and declares confidence he will convince Messi to stay. "If I win the elections, I want to make a very competitive proposal and I know he will listen to me. I want him to stay," he tells RAC1. "I have an advantage over others, he knows I've always fulfilled what I said. We have a good relationship, we appreciate each other and we respect each other."

February 1, 2021  – With his successor still to be elected, Bartomeu is forced to deny leaking details of Messi's contract. Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports the deal Messi signed in 2017 could earn him in excess of €555m. It was also revealed Barca's debts had risen above €1.1billion, with the COVID-19 pandemic having a huge impact.

March 7, 2021  – After Messi and his team-mates vote in the elections, Laporta is confirmed as Barca's new president. He wins 54.28 per cent of the vote and continues to speak of confidence Messi will commit to his only senior club. "Seeing the best player in the world come out to vote today is a clear sign of what we keep saying," he says. "Leo loves Barca."

April 18, 2021  – Barca, led by Laporta, are one of 12 elite clubs to announce their involvement in a breakaway European Super League.

April 22, 2021  – The unpopular Super League plans quickly collapse, but Barca, Real Madrid and Juventus remain committed to the project. Given the Blaugrana's dire financial situation, Laporta claims the lucrative proposed competition is "absolutely necessary".

May 28, 2021  – The season ends with no new Messi deal in place, although Laporta insists negotiations are "progressing well". However, he also promises new signings, which do not tally with the club's financial difficulties. Sure enough, Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia, Emerson Royal and Memphis Depay are all soon signed, but there is little by way of outgoing movement.

June 30, 2021  – Messi's contract officially expires, making him a free agent. While LaLiga president Javier Tebas refuses to ease the competition's salary restrictions, Laporta says: "We are doing well but you have to fit a deal into the financial fair play."

August 4, 2021  – LaLiga confirms a €2.7billion deal with CVC Capital Partners, with 90 per cent of the injection earmarked for clubs. Only €42m of this is set to be available for Barca to spend on transfers and wages, but it is hoped this investment will help the Blaugrana do the deal as Messi's father Jorge prepares to fly in for talks.

August 5, 2021  – After widespread reports in Spain tell of a hitch in the deal, Barca sensationally announce Messi will leave the club. "Despite having reached an agreement between FC Barcelona and Leo Messi and with the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, it will not be possible to formalise it due to economic and structural obstacles (Spanish LaLiga regulations)," a statement read. "Given this situation, Lionel Messi will not continue to be linked to FC Barcelona. Both sides deeply regret that the wishes of both the player and the club cannot ultimately be fulfilled. Barca would like to thank the player most sincerely for his contribution to the aggrandisement of the institution and wishes him the best in his personal and professional life."

August 6, 2021 – In a long and in-depth press conference, Laporta made it clear there was simply no margin in Barca's salary situation to retain Messi, despite the player wanting to stay. He reveals a five-year agreement paying him two years of salary had been agreed, but was not cleared by LaLiga amid financial fair play rules. "In LaLiga, we have to abide by the rules, we feel they could be more flexible but that's not an excuse. We knew we couldn't abide by it due to the situation," he said, admitting a decision had been taken amid opposing the competition's deal with CVC Capital Partners that would "affect the club for the next 50 years". If the statement had not made it clear enough, Laporta admitted Messi's time with the club is over.

August 10, 2021 –  PSG confirm the worst-kept secret, announcing the signing of Messi on a two-year deal that also reportedly includes an option for a further season. The Ligue 1 side seemingly enjoyed a free run at the forward after Pep Guardiola had indicated he was not an option for Manchester City. Having teased the official unveiling for several hours, PSG finally confirmed the deal with a video that included their new recruit standing in the middle of the Parc des Princes wearing the number 30 shirt. "I am excited to begin a new chapter of my career at Paris Saint-Germain. Everything about the club matches my football ambitions," said Messi, who is the biggest of all the big names to join the club in the transfer window.

Neymar is excited about the prospect of playing alongside Lionel Messi again as Paris Saint-Germain teased the imminent signing of the Argentina superstar on Twitter.

Messi has reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with PSG after Barcelona confirmed last week they would not be able to retain the Camp Nou icon due to "financial and structural obstacles".

The French capital quickly emerged as the most likely destination for the 34-year-old, who scored 672 goals in 778 games for Barca, as well as providing 265 assists for his team-mates.

Neymar played alongside Messi in Spain and is now preparing for a reunion at PSG, the Brazilian posting a story on his Instagram account that showed footage of the pair in their Barcelona days, along with the words "back together" and a fire emoji.

Messi travelled to complete the move on Tuesday, his father Jorge confirming to La Sexta at Barcelona-El Prat Airport that he would be signing for PSG.

The player is set to have a medical upon his arrival, though his future employers could not wait to tease the announcement with a short video on social media.

Titled 'Mercato Update', the 13-second clip showed a plane in transit followed by Messi in an Argentina shirt, albeit his head was cropped out of the footage.

There was then a snapshot of pen being put to paper, followed by playing shirts belonging to Neymar – whose kit included him wearing the number 10 – and Kylian Mbappe hanging up inside the dressing room, sitting either side of another jersey that was covered up.

After landing in Paris, Messi appeared at an airport window wearing a t-shirt that read "Ici c'est Paris" ("Here is Paris") and waved to the large number of fans who had gathered to greet him upon his arrival.

Neymar and Messi won two LaLiga titles and also the 2015 Champions League final while playing alongside each other at Barca, two parts of the famous 'MSN' forward line that also included striker Luis Suarez.

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