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Signing Messi, mission impossible?

The impossible dream of signing Messi is back stronger than ever to the forefront of the news. CFO’s have started their number crunching following the rumors on a possible bad relationship with his manager and the contradictory player’s statements in the media. We can no longer hear Messi say categorically that he wants to develop his entire career at Barça and this has alerted some of the most powerful clubs, which try to find that if there is a possible way of taking on board the four-time Ballon d’Or winner.

¿How much is it for the Argentinian star?

Signing Messi is not precisely a "bargain". On the one hand, it is clear that with elections just around the corner and with FCB being unable to sign replacements until 2016, the club will never sit at a table to negotiate the transfer of the best player in their history. There is no possible discussion around it and the potential buyer would be referred to the buy-out clause, which is much as 250 million euros in a contract that runs until 2018. Paying 250 million for Messi would mean paying a 20% more than Real Madrid paid for Cristiano Ronaldo and Bale combined, the two most expensive signings in history so far.

On the other hand, any club would require no less than 50 million euros in annual gross salary to “persuade” the player. Or what is the same, 25 million euros net per season. Thus, assuming that the contract offered would be a five-year contract, the cost of the operation would be at a whopping 100 million annually, resulting from adding 50 million each year (gross salary) to the amortization of the buy-out clause (50 million over five years to cover the 250 million). A fortune.

The clubs that could “dream” about the deal

With Italian football decaying -not a single Serie A signing in the global top 10 since the time of Crespo, Buffon or Vieri- and Monaco’s Russian owner getting tired of spending money, the list of candidates gets reduced to 6 clubs: Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City in the Premier League, the almighty Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, Ibrahimovic’s PSG... and Real Madrid.

Van Gaal’s Red Devils, according to benefits –club made a profit of 52 million euros last season- would be the strongest contender from a pure financial standpoint. And even if the club got year after year the best benefits of its history there would still be an annual gap close to 50 million euros to reach the annual requirement of 100 million.

Next on the list would be none other than Real Madrid which, in the unlikely event of convincing Messi to emulate Luis Figo, would need an additional 60 million annually to cover the signing of the century (the difference between 100 million and 39 million of benefits from last season). And so on with Bayern, Chelsea, PSG and Manchester City.

Financial Fair Play, the spoilsport

However, an unexpected guest called Financial Fair Play is now around and ready to ruin the party. If the 100 million needed to tackle the operation were not a big enough handicap, the new mechanism that UEFA has imposed doesn’t allow clubs to reach into the pockets of their owners as they would have done in the past. Thus, considering that this new regulation allows losses of “only” 30 million over three years -hence an average of 10 per season-, any losses above these figures should be covered by conventional revenue streams or by cost savings.

Mourinho’s calculator

Chelsea, the first candidate for most bookmakers over the last weeks, obtained benefits of 24 million euro in the 2013-14 season, the highest in its history. The blues would therefore need another 76 million per season to reach the 100 million needed each year to fund the deal, not being allowed to use Abramovich’s checkbook to meet the objective.

Indeed, getting an additional 76 million euros per year seems like an outstanding challenge. Not easy even with the best commercial directors or player transfers gurus it would be an easy task, as extraordinary deals would be required year on year over a five year period. In Mourinho’s side case we are talking about colossal projects such as the expansion of Stamford Bridge –increasing capacity to 55,000 spectators would yield about 30 million annually-; selling their biggest star Hazard –with consequent income from the sale and savings on player’s wages- or trying to emulate Manchester United and replicate the extraordinary sponsorship deals recently signed by the club (90 million per year from Adidas or 65 from Chevrolet).

It is therefore not surprising that The Special One and his assistant coach Steve Holland declared that signing Messi is "impossible" due to Financial Fair Play. However, football industry shows us every day that nothing is impossible, as proven by most recent contracts signed by Manchester United, unthinkable a few years ago. Moreover, having Messi in the club’s sales deck should make it easier to close notable sponsorship deals, even for the least qualified sales men. A few would be needed though...