BARCELONA, Spain—With the Spanish league title in hand, Barcelona’s fans quickly moved on to what they want next: The return of their all-time favorite player.
“Messi! Messi! Messi!” resounded at Camp Nou—in minute 10 for Lionel Messi’s old No. 10 shirt—during Saturday’s game against Real Sociedad that ended with a rare 2-1 loss to the Basque visitor.
The loss did little to dampen the festive atmosphere after the final whistle when Sergio Busquets as team captain received the Spanish league trophy from federation president Luis Rubiales and presented it to the crowd with his teammates.
It was Busquets’ 32nd and last title before the midfielder leaves Barcelona this summer.
Last week, Barcelona clinched its first major title since Messi had to leave due to the club’s wretched financial situation two years ago and join Paris Saint-Germain.
But with Messi set to leave Paris this summer, Barcelona’s fans are hoping—perhaps naively considering the likely blockbuster offer he could be dangled from Saudi Arabia—that the superstar will want to come back to the club he joined when he was 13.
Messi has a commercial contract with Saudi Arabia to promote tourism. He made a recent trip to the energy-rich kingdom where his former Liga rival Cristiano Ronaldo is playing on a lucrative contract that media reports put at a world-record $200 million a year.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta has contributed to the rising expectations of the club’s supporters, even while insisting that the debt-ridden Spanish club cannot compete when it comes to wages.
Instead, he hopes the legacy of 35 titles, including four European Cups, Messi won with Barcelona will do the trick.
“With all due respect for Saudi Arabia, which is doing things well, Barça is Barça,” Laporta said this week. “And Barcelona is (Messi’s) home. This club can compete against the entire world. Our history and our 400 million followers are our strengths. We want Leo, but we will not be able to offer lots of money to bring him here. Our club is under an austerity plan.”
Barcelona needs to reduce its salary burden of nearly 650 million euros by at least 200 million euros to meet the Spanish league’s strict financial rules this summer, according to Spanish league president Javier Tebas.
Even so, Tebas has also said he hopes Barcelona can make it work to bring Messi back.
Image credits: AP