Barcelona was forced to let Argentina superstar Lionel Messi leave the club because his wage demands would have jeopardised the club's future, President Joan Laporta said on Friday.
The club and Messi had both wanted to sign a new contract but the Argentine's deal would have taken salaries to 110 percent of the club's earnings, a financially risky move given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Laporta said.
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"The club is above everything - even above the best player in the world," Laporta told a news conference.
Without Messi's wages, salaries would account for 95 percent of Barcelona's income, he said.
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"Last season will end with double the losses that we predicted - over 400 million (euros)," he added.
Laporta said salaries should ideally account for 65 percent-70 percent of the club's income, "so there's still a lot of work to be done."
Messi has been at the club for all of his playing career, but Barcelona announced on Thursday that the six-time Ballon d'Or winner would leave after 18 years.
Laporta told a news conference the club and Messi had both wanted to sign a new contract, however.
"We reached agreement but couldn't formalise it, because of the club's economic situation, which means we can't register the player due to salary limits," he said.
Barca's all-time top scorer and appearance maker technically ended his 21-year association with the club at the end of June and is currently a free agent after his previous contract expired.
Messi's last contract, signed in 2017, was the most lucrative in world sport according to a January report in newspaper El Mundo. Forbes has listed him as the athlete with the world's second-highest earnings in 2021, at $130 million.
"To suddenly end like this when you thought he was already contracted again... It's really sad, really really sad," said 36-year-old student and Barca fan Jose Rivero earlier, standing on the street in the Catalan capital.
Laporta said the club had lined up two new deals with Messi, firstly a two-year deal made payable over five, and then a separate five-year deal.
But he said that they were unable to get either deal done because of La Liga's Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, and that he was not willing to agree to the league's proposed private equity investment from CVC solely in order to secure Messi's future.
"In order to meet FFP, Barca had to agree to an operation, essentially re-mortgaging the club, which would affect us for the next 50 years in terms of TV rights, and I had to make the decision."
Laporta said that the coronavirus-impacted 2020-21 season's financial losses would be double what had been expected.
"We need to move on. We won't just try to meet FFP criteria by putting the club at risk for the next 50 years," he told reporters.
The Barca chief lamented the financial situation that he had inherited from former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, describing it as "far, far worse" than anticipated.
"I don't want to go on and on about the situation we inherited, and the awful decisions that were made in the past. We have gone from bad to worse," he said.