How Joel Ward Explains Lionel Messi
Background image: Stuart Bramley, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Football spread across the globe in large part due to the East India Company. British merchants established football clubs everywhere they traveled and taught the locals the game in order to have some friendly competition. Frequently, that history is the reason you see clubs in different countries wearing similar kits.
Influence traveled in the opposite direction when it came to FC Barcelona and Crystal Palace, however. The Eagles wore different kits and colours over the years, including a spell where they outfitted themselves in white to pay homage to Real Madrid. Then Barca fan Malcolm Allison came along in 1973 and designed the current theme of blue and red.
Unfortunately, the winning traditions at Real Madrid and Barcelona didn’t rub off on Palace. Nor did the riches. On the other hand, it’s said that big money brings big problems and it’s fair to say that Palace doesn’t have big problems.
Take Joel Ward, for instance. The 31-year-old right-back was out of contract this summer. His versatility made him more valuable to any club than the fact he only added a single assist in 2020/21 to his career total of 12 goals and 14 helpers across all competitions. The Hampshire native can play anywhere across the back line and even take a turn in defensive midfield if needed. Replacing him would have involved more than one player. Yet, after two weeks on the market when he was free to engage in talks with any club he pleased, Ward cordially came to terms with Palace and agreed to call Selhurst Park home for another two years. Clearly, here was a player happy with his club and unwilling to complicate his career by chasing a higher wage in an unfamiliar environment.
It makes one ask why Barcelona have struggled so mightily to sign Lionel Messi?
While the Argentine is two years and 127 days older than the Englishman, age wasn’t a factor. Messi outdid Ward by 13 assists and 38 goals aac in ‘20/21. While the Palace defender was negotiating his new deal and watching the Three Lions reach the Euro 2020 final on the telly, the Blaugrana and Albiceleste captain was winning the Copa America in Brazil with his countrymen. Any club would pay through the nose to have him if they could.
The general consensus, though, has been that Messi is the proverbial one-club man and prefers to remain in Catalonia for the rest of his career. In addition, the other clubs who could be creative with their accounting in order to acquire him, Manchester City, United, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and possibly Bayern Munich, all appear to be politely minding their own business. You would think it a formality then for Barca to ink their iconic star to a new contract.
Only it isn’t. Talks drag on interminably even though an agreement in principle was reportedly reached five days ago. The simple truth is that, rather than being a one-club man, Messi's wage demands are simply too high for even the richest clubs in a COVID-ravaged economy. Like it or not, he is stuck with Barca and even they are stretched to the limit to get him back on the books.
La Liga president Javier Tebas isn’t smoothing the process. While he continued to attack City and PSG, labeling any possibility of either club signing Messi as “financial doping”, he also kept an eagle eye on Barcelona’s finances, making it extremely difficult for the cash-strapped side to meet their captain’s wage demands. Tebas publicly insisted any agreement must comply with La Liga’s own financial fair play doctrine.
Barcelona have exceeded their wage cap. I hope they can keep Messi, but to do so, they will have to make cuts elsewhere. We are not going to make Barcelona’s wage bill more flexible… We are not going to change any rule for Messi.
That said, Tebas wasn’t the major stumbling block in the negotiating process. That would be Lionel Messi. According to recent reports, he is only now willing to yield, when all other options have evaporated, and give Barcelona a hometown discount by accepting a 50% wage cut. Until it became evident that no other club would intervene, he attempted to extract every penny he could from the club who brought him as a critically underdeveloped young boy across an ocean and paid out of pocket for an expensive hormone treatment, gambling that he would grow into the living legend he’s become.
Maximising his income isn’t something Leo need do anymore. According to Goal.com, his most recent wage packet was £500,000/week and his yearly income an estimated £98 million. His football income [£26 million] amounts to less than a third of his earnings. If he retired today, his ongoing endorsement income would support his lifestyle for the foreseeable future. Far more than Joel Ward, he can afford to be generous, assuming he feels any love [or gratitude] for Barcelona as a club at all. Despite his apparent capitulation to reality, all indications are he does not.