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Lionel Messi: “I didn’t want to go through all that again”

Messi celebrating a goal against Real Madrid / SPORT
Lionel Messi celebrating a goal against Real Madrid / SPORT

In an insightful and brutally honest interview, Lionel Messi opened up about the saga that ended with him in Inter Miami.

After much speculation and discussion, Lionel Messi’s future lies in the MLS, where he will ply his trade for Inter Miami, currently bottom of the Eastern Conference in the North American league.

In order to announce his decision, and open up about his side of what truthfully has been a saga filled with twists, he sat down with Mundo Deportivo’s Fernando Polo and SPORT’s Albert Masnou for an extensive interview.

In the interview, he opened up about his time in Paris Saint-Germain, how he felt after he left Barcelona, what has happened since then, and what his plans are for the future.

Here is what he had to say:

On his time in Paris:

“The truth is that the first year [in Paris] was very difficult, as I’ve said on occasion, for multiple reasons. In the second year, for the first six months, I felt really really good, very accustomed to the club and the city, both my family and myself. In the middle [of the season], there was the World Cup, and I think it hit a lot of clubs, generally, for a part of the season, with a competition that important in the middle of the season for the first time ever. I think they changed the season a lot. I hoped it’d turn out differently, but, well, those were two generally difficult years for me, but they’re behind me now.”

On whether he missed Barcelona, and how in touch he has been with the club since his departure in 2021:

“Yes, obviously I missed Barcelona. The truth is, the first year after I left was very difficult for me, after I left, how it happened, and so on. Obviously I kept following the club, watching the games, and always longed for the memories and being there [in Barcelona].” “Obviously, yes, I was very happy when Barcelona won the league. I followed them all year and wanted Barcelona to win everything, just like any other fan. In my first year, too. I talk a lot to Xavi, also about some of the games, after matches, situations. The truth is we’ve spoken a lot since he became the head coach. And I followed him, obviously.”

On whether he was excited by the prospect of returning to Barcelona:

“Yes, the truth is that I obviously was very excited by the idea, and had a lot of desire to return.” “But on the other hand, after having been through what I’ve been through, and how I left, I don’t want to find myself in a similar situation again: I don’t want to wait and see what happens, or leave my decision in the hands of someone else.” “I wanted to make my own decision, with the consideration of myself and my family. It’s good to hear that LaLiga had accepted everything and that everything was OK in order for me to come back, but there were still a lot of things left to do.”

On a repeat of his bitter exit in 2021:

“I heard they had to sell players and lower wages and the truth is I don’t want to be the reason for something like that to have to happen.” “They [people] already accused me of a lot of things that weren’t true during my time in Barcelona, and I was a bit tired. I didn’t want to go through all that [again].”

Xavi mentioned that 99% of the decision lies on Lionel Messi, amidst pressure from the media. The Argentine was asked if the pressure got to him.

“I listened to a bit of what was said, what was coming out [in the media], what Xavi said… but there was a bit [of pressure] from what he said recently [about the 99% depending on Leo]. LaLiga had given the OK, but the decision being mine isn’t true, because a lot of things were missing, and it’s a long summer where I don’t want to go through what I went through again.”

“I preferred to make the decision earlier this time, be at peace, and think about the holidays and my future, already planning while knowing what’s possible.”

On the media coverage in general:

“I wasn’t pressured from the news coming from Barcelona, because so many things were said. I don’t know where they came from, but there were so many leaks and news. There were journalists who put me everywhere. They had the deal confirmed in Saudi Arabia, in Barcelona they considered the deal done, then the next day they’d change their version [of the story]. A lot was said, so I was trying to think about what I knew and felt and work off of that, not what was being said [in the media].”

On whether and how his departure in 2021 influenced his decision this time:

“It was hard. One of the reasons, like I explained, is to not have to go through that again. It was a very ugly time. We came back with the same excitement that we had every year, ready to start training again, send the kids back to school and their routines. When it was all ready to be signed, overnight, it couldn’t be done, and they [Barça] told me it couldn’t be done, and that I had to leave the club. I had to run around and find a new team, hastily make a decision and going through all that was hard.”

On whether he has had any communication with club president Joan Laporta and head coach Xavi Hernández throughout the saga:

“I’ve barely spoken to Laporta over the last two years, once, or twice at most.”

“With Xavi I had a lot of communication, a lot more since he arrived at the club [as head coach]. We also spoke about the possibility of me returning. We were very excited, because when something came out we would talk about whether he [Xavi] really wanted him [Messi] back, whether it’d be good for the team and for him [Messi], and we stayed in touch.”

On the lack of a farewell ceremony when he left:

“I would’ve liked to say goodbye like Busi and Jordi, or Xavi and Iniesta did.”

On the chants:

“For me it [hearing his name being chanted] was beautiful and I enjoyed it, because the truth is that when I left, I left in a strange way. I would’ve liked to have said goodbye like Busi and Jordi now did, or like Xavi and Iniesta did back then. I would’ve liked to have left in that manner, to have been able say goodbye to the people properly, even though it was at the time of the pandemic and fans couldn’t come to the stadium.”

“[…] That’s why I was very happy when I heard my name in the Camp Nou or in Barcelona. Beyond the mutual love that’s always there, it was hard to hear it [Messi’s name chanted] in the Camp Nou, when I wasn’t there.”

On the process this time, in terms of Barcelona’s offer:

“The truth is that the financial aspect never was a problem for me or an obstacle at all. This time, we never even got to talking about the contract. There was an offer [from Barcelona] on the table, but never a formal, written, signed offer, because there was still nothing [materialized] and we didn’t know if it was going to happen or not.” “There was the intention, but we couldn’t move forward with anything, not even talking about money formally. If it was about the money, I would have gone to Saudi Arabia or somewhere else. it seemed like a lot of money to me [from Saudi] but the truth is that my decision was for something else, and not for money.”

On whether he believes Barcelona did everything they could:

“Well, I don’t know. That’s a question for them. Honestly, truthfully, I don’t know if they did everything they could or not. What I know is what I talked about with Xavi, but other than that… Now they’ve talked about receiving the go-ahead from the league for making the deal happen. But like I said, it’s not just about that. A lot of things weren’t done yet. The club, at this point, weren’t in a position where they could 100% confirm to me that I could return. And I understand that, because of what the club has been through. And that’s how it was for me.”

On whether he thinks there are people in Barça that don’t want him to come back:

“I don’t know. But surely there are people who don’t want me to come back, just like there were people who didn’t want me to stay when I had to leave [in 2021]. There are also people who I know want me to come back and expressed it and made it [their thoughts] public. But there are definitely people in the board [of directors] who don’t want me to come back, who think it’d be bad for the club if I came back.”

On the club signing Ferran Torres for €55m just after he left:

“I don’t know [if it seemed off to me]. At first, I went through a time where I felt really hurt by my departure and how it happened. In that moment, I was a bit angry that I couldn’t stay [at Barcelona], and soon after that, they could make moves. But at that moment, the club understood they could do it [sign players]. With the two years going by, I understood it, assimilated it [the frustration], and I don’t think about it anymore. If they could do a thing like that, it should be done like that.”

The saga was long, and the Argentine will soon put pen-to-paper on the deal that will send him to Inter Miami. The reported length of the contract is three years, but with the option for him to leave for free after each year, should he so desire.