Lionel Messi risks a six-month ban if he leaves Barcelona on a free

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Dan Burke

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Lionel Messi could be banned from football for six months and forced to pay €700m out of his own pocket if he leaves Barcelona on a free transfer.

What’s more, his next club could face a two-window transfer ban if Messi were to lose a legal battle against Barça.

That’s according to a report from The Athletic on Friday, which contains insights from two Spanish legal experts into whether the Argentine superstar really could walk away from Camp Nou for nothing.

As has been well documented, Messi’s Blaugrana contract contained a clause which, if triggered, would have enabled him to leave on a free transfer at the end of the 2019/20 season.

However, that clause expired on June 10 and even though Messi is reportedly hoping to argue that it should have been extended to account for the delayed end to the season, The Athletic’s legal experts believe he is on very shaky ground.

“The clause in the contract is June 10 and the end of the season contractually is June 30, when contracts usually end, marking the end of the season,” sports lawyer Francisco Dominguez is quoted as saying.

“This, therefore, means a 20-day period before the ‘end’ of the season. Therefore, we know he has notified the club too late, according to the original date, by withdrawing from his contract in August.”

That means it is highly likely that if Messi does leave Barça, his next club will have to agree a transfer fee for him.

Otherwise, a lengthy legal battle would likely ensue and a judge may eventually order the 33-year-old to pay a penalty of €700m – the release clause in his current contract.

The Athletic’s legal experts say Messi could argue that the €700m release clause is “abusive” and designed purely to ensure he would be unable to leave the club while under contract.

But considering the hefty salary he has received during his time at the club, Dominguez believes a judge would be unlikely to take the player’s side in that particular dispute.

“So maybe the judge could say it is €500 million but that is still really, really high as a penalty!” he says.

“In my opinion, it is really a high risk for Messi. The best option, therefore, is to try and close an agreement [between the clubs or to stay].”

Barcelona could also lodge a complaint with Fifa if Messi tried to walk away from his contract and if they did, the worst case scenario could see …

  • The six-time Ballon d’Or winner banned from football for six months
  • Messi and his new club being jointly liable for the €700m penalty
  • And his new club being issued with a two-window transfer ban

That’s based on Article 17 of Fifa’s transfer regulations which state that..

“If a professional is required to pay compensation, the professional and his new club shall be jointly and severally liable for its payment.”

And …

“Sporting sanctions shall also be imposed on any player found to be in breach of contract during the protected period. This sanction shall be a four-month restriction on playing in official matches. In the case of aggravating circumstances, the restriction shall last six months.”

And …

“Sporting sanctions shall be imposed on any club found to be in breach of contract or found to be inducing a breach of contract during the protected period.”

And …

“The club shall be banned from registering any new players, either nationally or internationally, for two entire and consecutive registration periods.”

In summary, trying to sign Messi on a free transfer would be extremely risky business for both the player and Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, or whoever else.

That perhaps explains why various reports have begun to emerge suggesting potential suitors may have to cough up as much as €150m for the little magician and though Barcelona probably won’t want to keep their captain against his will, they are perfectly entitled to play hardball until they receive an acceptable offer for his services.