Lionel Messi unwillingly left Barcelona because the player’s wages were too high for the financially strapped club. Despite the Argentine’s willingness to play for pennies compared to his existing contract, anti-laundering processes and financial fair play forced Messi to still make exorbitant amounts of money.

To top it off, the previous Barcelona board deferred Messi’s wages to sign new players to lofty contracts. Messi, the club’s captain and an academy graduate, made less money in an effort to help the club. The contract he signed was allegedly the biggest sports contract of all time, according to El Mundo. Over a four-year span, Messi would make over $600 million if he met all his benchmarks. However, with the deferred money, Barcelona owed the player $56.6 million by the time he left. He also left on a free transfer, so Barcelona could not recoup any of its financial difficulties there.

Speaking to La Vanguardia, Barcelona President Joan Laporta said Barcelona has outstanding payments through 2025. Initially, Barcelona hoped to have those payments fulfilled by 2022. Perhaps that money’s absence is why Messi is opting to go to Inter Miami instead of a Barcelona return. The club released a somewhat passive-aggressive statement about Messi’s move, calling Inter Miami less of a challenge than the demands of Barcelona.

“President Laporta understood and respected Messi’s decision to want to compete in a league with fewer demands, further away from the spotlight and the pressure he has been subject to in recent years,” the statement read.

Barcelona misses out on Messi, still walking tightrope of wages

Barcelona has pulled some levers to get back to financial stability. Selling its own media rights, selling players without making too many lavish signings and other financial maneuvers have the club on the right track. However, the club is still seeking help from LaLiga.

Most recently, the club learned that LaLiga will be weakening its financial fair play. Barcelona can spend 50% of anything it makes on new deals or new money. That means that if Barcelona signs a sponsorship deal or sells a player, it can quickly turn that cash around to spend on someone new.

Of course, a priority for Barcelona is paying the outstanding wages to Messi, which is no small fee. That will help stabilize the relationship between the two, as will a Messi tribute in the renovated Camp Nou.