Laporta: I hoped Messi would play for free at Barca

Barcelona president Joan Laporta says he had hoped Lionel Messi would stay at the club and play for free before completing his summer move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi concluded his 21-year association with Barcelona at the start of August and left as a free agent because the Catalonia club were unable to fulfil their offer of a new contract due to their inability to meet the La Liga salary cap.

The Argentina international then signed a two-year deal with PSG after an emotional farewell at the Nou Camp.

“There came a time when both parties saw that it would not be possible. There was disappointment on both sides,” Laporta told radio station RAC1.

FC Barcelona club President Joan Laporta pauses during a news conference in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Barcelona announced on Thursday Aug. 5, 2021 that Lionel Messi will not stay with the club. He is leaving after 17 successful seasons in which he propelled the Catalan club to glory, helping it win numerous domestic and international titles since debuting as a teenager. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort)..
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Barcelona President Joan Laporta says he had hoped Messi would stay and play for free

“He wanted to stay but they also had a lot of pressure because of the offer they had.

“I hoped Messi would do a U-turn and he would say he would play for free.

“I would have liked that and I would have been all for it. It is my understanding La Liga would have accepted it. But we cannot ask a player of Messi’s stature to do this.”

Laporta also said that La Liga were willing to allow Barcelona to keep Messi if the club agreed to a deal with investment fund CVC Capital Partners, which would have seen the Spanish top-flight give up a percentage of its commercial rights for the next 50 years.

Despite rejecting the deal at the time, along with Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, Laporta said that Barcelona could be open to a restructured deal in the future.

“We do not need more debt,” said Laporta. “I understand La Liga clubs are suffering. We have not ruled ourselves out of this operation but they have to change it. They are trying to reformulate the deal.”

Barca to play away from Camp Nou for a year

Laporta also confirmed that Barcelona will play at another stadium for up to a year when the club starts its planned modernisation of Camp Nou stadium.

Laporta said that he wants to begin the long-delayed overhaul of the Camp Nou in the summer of 2022. He added that the work will last three to four years, but that the team will only need to find another home for a maximum of 12 months.

“We are considering different possibilities, but the strongest candidate is the Johan Cruyff Stadium,” Laporta said.

Johan Cruyff Stadium is where the women’s team plays and forms part of the club’s training complex on the outskirts of Barcelona. With a capacity to seat only 6,000 spectators, Laporta said the club wants to increase that to 50,000 if the men’s team plays there.

Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium (AP)
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Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium is set to be redeveloped

Another option, Laporta said, would be for the team to play at the city’s Montjuic Stadium. The municipal facility hosted the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Summer Olympics and was home to Barcelona rival Espanyol for several years.

Camp Nou is already Europe’s largest soccer stadium with 99,000 seats. The club wants to increase its capacity to 110,000 while also refurbishing its surrounding area, which includes a pavilion for the club’s other sports, the museum and stores.

To finance the operation, Barcelona are in talks with Goldman Sachs for the investment bank to loan the cash-strapped club 1.5 billion euros (£1.27bn). The financing plan needs to win a vote by the club’s members.

Laporta inherited a club near bankruptcy when he won elections in March. He had also led the club from 2003-10.

“(The new Camp Nou) is fundamental for the viability of the club and its immediate future,” Laporta added. “The impact it will have for Barca is critical so that we can compete with our competitors who have already done what is needed.”

Real Madrid took advantage of last year’s pandemic lockdown, when no fans could attend matches in Spain, to spruce up its Santiago Bernabeu.

Barcelona’s plans to redo the Camp Nou have met with several delays over the past decade.