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Q&A: Just HOW can PSG sign Lionel Messi and comply with FFP?

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As tears flowed in Barcelona on Sunday questions were being asked as to how it had all come to this for Lionel Messi

He wants to stay but can’t. LaLiga‘s strict financial regulations holding firm and leaving Barcelona president Joan Laporta with no choice but to wave their greatest ever player off. 

With Messi on the books Barcelona were spending 110 per cent of their income on wages – a totally reckless and unsustainable model established by the previous regime. With Messi out the door that has now dropped to 95 per cent. 

Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona after 21 trophy-laden years spent at the Catalan club

Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona after 21 trophy-laden years spent at the Catalan club

All eyes are on Paris Saint-Germain and police were spotted outside the ground on Monday

All eyes are on Paris Saint-Germain and police were spotted outside the ground on Monday

Reports have Messi taking his talents to Paris, specifically to Paris Saint-Germain, with a medical expected early this week.

Messi’s arrival would be all-worldly iconic as the six-time Ballon d’Or winner would form a devastating attacking trident alongside Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. 

But with PSG already making statement moves this summer – including Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Sergio Ramos – how can they make it work? Do they have to balance the books? Will Messi’s arrival trigger a fire-sale for a bloated squad? Sportsmail looks to answer all that and more in a Q&A… 

So, is there no way back for him at Barca?

It doesn’t seem like it. A lot of tears have been shed and it would be quite the turnaround now. The book was closed on Messi’s Barcelona story on Sunday.

Messi claimed he did ‘all he could’ from his side to make staying at the Nou Camp possible, agreeing to a 50 per cent pay cut.

But in the end that wasn’t enough and with Spanish employment law ruling out the potential to play for nothing, or a fraction of his previous wage, Barcelona had to accept a brutal defeat. 

‘My contract was never the issue,’ he said. ‘What I know is that I did everything I could. The club say it could not happen because of LaLiga.

‘I can guarantee you that I did everything I could to stay. Last year I didn’t want to and I said that, but this year it was different.’  

Messi looked devastated as he spoke to the media and his team-mates at the Nou Camp

Messi looked devastated as he spoke to the media and his team-mates at the Nou Camp

And PSG are interested, it’s not just paper talk?

PSG are *definitely* keen. 

Signing a player like Lionel Messi is a once in a generation moment and presents huge commercial possibilities. 

Messi confirmed he has been in talks with the French giants but was unwilling to go beyond them being an ‘option’ when quizzed in his press conference. 

That seemed something of an understatement but was at least a signifier that a dialogue was open to take him to Paris.

‘When the press release was published, I had a lot of calls and a lot of clubs were interested,’ he added. 

PSG are desperate to win the Champions League and believe Messi can take them to glory

PSG are desperate to win the Champions League and believe Messi can take them to glory

Messi's anticipated switch to Paris adorned the front page of Monday's edition of L'Equipe

Messi’s anticipated switch to Paris adorned the front page of Monday’s edition of L’Equipe

‘At the moment, I’ve not got anything closed, but we are talking about a lot of things.’ 

PSG have been working at an electric pace since Barcelona’s bombshell announcement about Messi – who has been a free agent for two months now – not returning on Thursday.

Neymar is among a host of PSG players who made public pleas to Messi throughout last season and, like Messi, boss Mauricio Pochettino hails from Rosario, Argentina, and would no doubt be thrilled to have the attacker in his all-star attack. 

There is work to do but PSG are determined to pull this one off.

Will Barca fight this? 

You bet they will. It took a matter of hours after Sunday’s press conference for this to turn quite ugly indeed.  

A group of lawyers working on behalf of the Catalan club’s ‘socios’ are alleging that PSG cannot sign Messi due to their own financial woes.

A lawyer working on behalf of the Spanish club’s loyal section of supporters filed a complaint to the European Court of Appeals, stating the Parisians should be stopped in their pursuit of Messi based on financial data he has examined. 

He claims that 99 per cent of PSG’s income was spent on wages in 2019-20, in comparison to 54 per cent at Barcelona – something the French side will contest if challenged in court. 

Dr Juan Branco confirmed the complaint on Twitter on Sunday night by tweeting a statement that read: ‘In the name of the ‘socios’ of Barcelona, my firm has prepared a complaint with the European Commission and demands for provisional suspension before civil and administrative courts in France to prevent Paris-Saint Germain from signing Lionel Messi.

Messi has spent his entire career with Barcelona but is now finally going to venture out

Messi has spent his entire career with Barcelona but is now finally going to venture out 

In a document posted by Juan Branco, he confirmed the 'socios' are looking to stop the move

In a document posted by Juan Branco, he confirmed the ‘socios’ are looking to stop the move

‘PSG’s ratios in terms of ‘Financial Fair Play’ are worse than those of FC Barcelona.

‘In 2019-2020, PSG’s salary-to-income ratio was 99%, while Barcelona’s was 54%. Meanwhile, the difference has increased.

‘It is inconceivable that the ‘Financial Fair Play’ serves to aggravate the drifts of football-business, the instrumentalisation of football by sovereign powers, and the distortion of competitions.’ 

Good luck to Branco, he’ll sure need it. De-railing PSG at this stage would take a monumental effort of his legal repertoire.  

The key for Barcelona will be winning any legal case before a deal is signed with PSG or the situation could be an incredibly long and drawn out process.

Barcelona’s supporters are devastated and want to fight any prospect of him joining a European rival, even if the Catalan side would still not have the means to strike a deal upon a successful appeal against PSG. It’s just a very messy divorce.  

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So, what about FFP? Are Barca right?

Well, the first thing to note is the rules have been relaxed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rules were relaxed to help ‘smaller’ teams who were crippled by nosedives in income. 

But when you’re as flush with cash as PSG are – given they are state-owned by Qatar – this break represents an opportunity to be aggressive in their recruitment. 

A break in FFP rules mean PSG can take it as an opportunity to be aggressive in recruitment

A break in FFP rules mean PSG can take it as an opportunity to be aggressive in recruitment

FFP rules, which were introduced in 2011, detail that a club can spend money equivalent to their income. If and when they exceed this figure they are required to not go above €30million (£25m) over the following three years. 

So income consists of various revenue streams: matchday sales, TV rights, advertising, player sales, and prize money. All of that is then balanced against expenditure of transfer fees and employee wages. 

But ’emergency measures’ put in place by UEFA last summer amid the height of the pandemic saw this cap scrapped and owners were being encouraged to put more money into their clubs. 

The 2020 financial year was shelved under FFP and that will now be absorbed by the 2021 results. As such, losses that exceed the traditional £25m will pass by without punishments – provided it can be proved that said losses were due to the pandemic.

While it would be difficult to justify Messi’s arrival as a ‘pandemic-caused loss’, these top European clubs are masters of spin and would no doubt roll the dice with FFP.

Achraf Hakimi joined for £60m from Inter Milan but that fee will be amortised over five years

Achraf Hakimi joined for £60m from Inter Milan but that fee will be amortised over five years

On the two expenditure fronts, PSG would only find themselves potentially at risk on salary. 

Many of their deals this summer have been free transfers with the one big outlay, on Hakimi at £60m, due to be amortised (spread out in each year’s accounts through to his contract conclusion in 2026) making it a manageable £12m, give or take, annually.

Arrivals of Ramos, Donnarumma, Wijnaldum and Hakimi are expected to add around £35m to the wage bill and Messi alone would add £35m of his own so sales would be key to those players on the periphery.  

What have UEFA said?

In short: rules need to be amended. How long that takes is anyone’s guess. 

Back in March, Andrea Traverso, UEFA’s director of research and financial stability, openly accepted that the pandemic had brought FFP’s required changes into sharp focus.

‘Covid-19 has generated a revenue crisis and had a big impact on the liquidity of clubs,’ he said. 

‘This is a crisis which is very different from anything we have had to tackle before. In such a situation obviously clubs are struggling; they have difficulties in complying with their obligations. 

‘I think in general rules must always evolve. They have to adapt to the context in which clubs operate. The break-even rule, the way it works now it looks backwards: it performs an assessment of a situation in the past [looking at profit and loss over three previous seasons]. The pandemic represents such an abrupt change that looking to the past is becoming purposeless.

‘So maybe the rules should have a stronger focus on the present and the future and should definitely have stronger focus on the challenges of high levels of wages and the transfer market. The solution of this is not easy.’ 

PSG know the time is now to capitalise while UEFA get FFP’s house in order. 

Neymar's £198m deal from Barcelona will be fully amortised by the end of 2021-22 season

Neymar’s £198m deal from Barcelona will be fully amortised by the end of 2021-22 season

Do PSG’s accounts have space?   

As mentioned earlier, the belief is they *should* be OK to pull this mammoth deal off.

For one, both Neymar (£198m) and Mbappe’s (£164m) deals are due to be fully amortised and paid off by the end of the 2021-22 season. 

That in itself will leave two significant chunks in the accounts where they were paying out £40m-a-year to Barcelona and around £32m-a-year for Mbappe.

Sure, they will show up in the 2021-22 accounts but from then on they are making a saving of more than £70m in outgoing fees which is significant – even before they get on to player sales. 

The mood in Paris is that PSG need to look to generate around £150m in player sales to shed any concerns of breaching FFP down the line.

So far, Mitchell Bakker departed for a fleck about £6m while goalkeeper Alphonse Areola was sent on loan to West Ham.  

Sergio Ramos has arrived in a star-studded window for PSG as they eye the biggest stars

Sergio Ramos has arrived in a star-studded window for PSG as they eye the biggest stars

The likes of Julian Draxler (left) and Mauro Icardi (right) could be sold in a bid to raise funds

The likes of Julian Draxler (left) and Mauro Icardi (right) could be sold in a bid to raise funds

The likes of Layvin Kurzawa, Pablo Sarabia, Idrissa Gueye and Julian Draxler feel among the most sellable of their surplus assets while many of their youngsters draw admiring glances, such as Xavi Simons.  

Mauro Icardi, who scored the winner against Troyes in the season opener, could also fall victim if his compatriot Messi arrives. 

Sales will be key if PSG are to mirror 2017-18 and 2018-19 in which they made a profit in both seasons. It was reported that those two combined, pre-tax, delivered a profit of £62m. 

January’s latest Deloitte Financial Report puts the Parisians as the seventh-richest football club in the world but even they need to make space in accounts and you’d expect them to move heaven and earth for someone like Messi.

Is Nasser Al-Khelaifi the key for FFP?

The key might be a bit strong but expect his voice to be heard when it comes to reforming FFP.

Al-Khelaifi has replaced Juve chief Andrea Agnelli as chairman of the European Club Association and that in itself feels significant.

PSG elected against joining forces for the European Super League, winning support within UEFA in the process, and while the PSG chief is unlikely to have the necessary powers to draw up FFP’s ‘evolved’ rules, he’ll no doubt have a say.  

Nasser Al-Khelaifi (left) has a key role now as chairman of the European Club Association

Nasser Al-Khelaifi (left) has a key role now as chairman of the European Club Association

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