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[00:00:08]

Hello and welcome to The Stand with Eamon Dunphy. The stand is proudly supported by Tesco at Tesco, our exclusive house for over sixty fives. Family carers and extremely medically vulnerable customers are every weekday, Monday to Friday, up to nine a.m. Health care and emergency services have priority access at all other times now, more than ever, every little helps. Now, the biggest soccer story for a very long time is still running. And it is, of course, the story of Lionel Messi wanting to leave Barcelona and possibly coming to the Premier League to play for his old coach, Pep Guardiola, at Manchester City.

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It's an intriguing prospect and there are complications. And we're covering this story with Richard Fitzpatrick, an Irishman who lives a journalist who lives and works in Barcelona and contributed a long piece on this subject to the Irish Times at the weekend. Richard, the latest developments being one of them, that yesterday all the Barcelona players had to turn up for a covid test so that they could be cleared to begin training today. Pre-season training, Lionel Messi didn't show.

[00:01:34]

Yeah. So training itself, like you say, will kick off this evening at five, 30 local time. And if he doesn't show up to the US, it'll be categorized as a will. Nobody expects him to show at this stage. And the medical tests, there was a bit of doubts. The fans of the global holding out the chance that he might show up for this. But it now seems like the divorce is total. So Mrs. Kemp will meet with the president on Wednesday.

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This would be his father, Hawke, who was his manager and agent. And significant, of course, the best won't be there himself. It's a measure of the distance between himself and the president that they don't talk with each other. So it seems full steam ahead. La Liga did chip in yesterday.

[00:02:35]

This is quite a significant intervention by the Spanish League League. And they are saying that the player cannot leave the club unless a 700 million euro buyout clause is met. Now, of course, just as it's a very exciting prospect for the Premier League in England to have Lionel Messi, it would be a mortal blow or a certainly a serious blow, Richard, to the Spanish league and Spanish football, where he to leave?

[00:03:12]

Absolutely. And look, the league are operating out of self-interest. You would have to think. And just as an example, five years ago, twenty three twenty four of the best 50 players in the world were playing in the league. That's down to 10, though. And the clubs across Spain don't have any money. Real Madrid aren't making any signings this summer. Valencia. I'd say that their revenue would be down by 50 percent next year because of the coronavirus and because they will be in the Champions League and the league are going to lose their most valuable assets.

[00:03:51]

Messi. And it's not only that, then they lose him. Everybody knew he would retire someday. It's the fact that there is a double whammy there. It looks as if he'll be going to their league, his biggest rival, the English Premier League. So it's a huge, huge blow to La Liga. So that's why they've come out essentially in backing the club.

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Yeah, the legal issue at the heart of this matter is very interesting. And in my view, actually, I don't have legal training.

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Of course, the clause in his contract that allowed him to leave on a free transfer at the end of the season was not triggered on the date at due, which was June 10th. The reason it wasn't triggered was the covered crisis, the extension of the league and indeed the season until about 10 days ago when Bayern Munich beat Barcelona eight two. So as June 10th was meaningless in terms of end of the season, I would think legally Messi. A good case to make in law that he exercised his right at the end of the season, which is what the first contract and his contract basically stated, are people examine the legal and if some maybes in Barcelona.

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Yeah, they are.

[00:05:30]

And they are very firm on this, at least publicly. And they're sticking to this June 10th deadline that he exercised this escape clause. So they have a very strong legal case as well. But underpinning this is that both sides do not want to go down the legal route. Yes.

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I mean, just to Sergeant Ronja Richard, I would have thought that he couldn't exercise his right on June 10th and to declare he was leaving because it would have been damaging for the Champions League endeavors and indeed their endeavors in La Liga. So he was he was almost precluded from exercising the right on the due date because circumstances had changed because of the pandemic. Therefore, he was forced and obliged to wait until the season ended before he made this earthshattering announcement in football terms, 100 percent.

[00:06:39]

And what you can imagine the fallout if if he had said come out and said that on June 10th. So it's a really interesting point to raise because the area of sports, one of the two big Catalan sports newspapers here, they came up with a story, I think it was Friday, claiming that Messi told the club after they lost to us Asuna in the league to win at the Cavanough in July, which effectively gave the league or it didn't technically give the league title to Real Madrid with the game to play.

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He told the club then he wanted to leave, but the club said, Oh, this is the boy who cried wolf. It's another messy hissy fits and it will pass and and they have some reason enough. He's retired before from the Argentina national team. He said he's what he wanted to leave by a couple of times before, particularly in the summer of twenty sixteen, when there was a deal lined up for him to go to Main City and that deal was sitting on the table all summer.

[00:07:43]

Messi came back from training or sorry, back from his holidays and went back into the dressing room at all. His old friends again, his father said to him afterwards, well, what are we going to do with this Vancity deal? And he said, just forget us, we will stay. So that was the thinking in the higher echelons of the club that this Messi wasn't serious or they didn't want to think that he was serious boss. So he resolved his mind after the eight two defeat to Bayern Munich.

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And this is a long list of grievances he has at the club, but finally tipped over and he said he is thinking this is what people are surmising, is that the only way to set this in stone was by sending off a pure eFax to the club, which is left everybody well, the fans really, really upset. Yes.

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A bureau of facts which no one had ever heard of before this row began. As I understand it, a bureau of facts has the status of a legal document. Yeah, yeah.

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A lot of they've got parking tickets myself into the door. It's effectively when somebody knocks on your door with legal documents like a summons. And so it's signed for InfoChoice. So it it's like I say, it's a legally binding document. So Messi sent this off on Tuesday evening at seven o'clock. Interestingly, for the next five hours that evening, Messi surpassed coronavirus and in search terms on Google around the world famous than the Internet.

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We heard the scientist talking about the coronavirus on our podcast, Richard. And I have to inform you that when I mentioned my message's name, he said, who is he?

[00:09:43]

So it might be a collector's item, that it was very funny. So anyway, to proceed with this, the latest news, you have concerns, a piece written by Brazilian journalist Marcello Abaca who broke the Neymar transfer and the news of this latest massive transfer request. So is quite. A credible source. What's he saying now? Yeah, he says the video production team at Manchester City are in train already to compile a video of highlights of his career for his unveiling for the presentation at Man City.

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So they want to get all their ducks in a row as well as the money for Messi signing. It's absolutely the club in pole position to get him. For reasons we've touched on before. The Guardiola would be the determining factor is relationship with Messi and they have the financial muscle to do to do a deal.

[00:10:50]

Yeah, she was just about to tell us before I interrupted you about the financial rationale from Barcelona's point of view of trying to cut a deal, not the seven hundred million that the release clause demands, but something more reasonable because they have their own difficulties now that their new coach round Kuman has decided to get rid of Suarez. Jordi Alba Vidal said that they need to go into the market badly, don't they?

[00:11:23]

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. This is the crux of the matter. They they have to negotiate a deal with Messi. It's in neither the club's interest or Massie's interest to go down the legal route to create a total war situation. In theory, Messi might go on strike for this for the season and sit it out and pass that badly. Need the money. We can talk about this and the president, how badly he needs that money and they need it for safe fazing measure as well.

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It would be it is already catastrophic, but to lose the greatest player in their history on a free transfer would be totally unacceptable, as you can imagine. So they will negotiate a deal. That was it. All the signs are that they'll sit down and they'll hammer out some kind of arrangement and all the parties can agree on.

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And this is an arrangement for his departure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And in that circumstance and really we'd be talking about one hundred and fifty million or something like that. But I mean they when you think that we have to consider that Lionel Messi is thirty three and but for Manchester City and for the Premier League, it would be an enormous coup. And even at thirty three he remains a player like we've never seen before.

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Yeah, the age is an interesting conundrum. Our issue is thirty three years. Normally the players would be topping out at that stage. But if you look, Fernando, he's he's great. Peer Renaldo's, two and a half years older than. Yes, he was he was arguably as prolific as ever last season. Thirty one goals and thirty three games in the league. And he scored two goals for you Van.

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And they're not convinced that Tofteland in a tough league where it's hard to score goals, said the Italian league.

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And across sports, LeBron James and basketball, he'd be thirty six in December or Roger Federer. Thirty seven at least when he won his last Grand Slam a couple of years ago as the Australian Open. And Messi is you know, he's not a playboy. He's his body is a temple. So he's in good shape. And he said earlier in the year, Rome February time, that he felt as good knows he has done in years physically.

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Not just a final question or two. Richard, you were telling us last week that the Barcelona fans and people in the city, because everyone in the city admires this institution, that they weren't entirely on Lionel Messi side. There were some people who handed him I weren't happy. How has that sort of discussion settled over the weekend when people have reflected on all the news that they have?

[00:14:38]

Yeah, it's a very interesting point to raise the initial reaction when he when it was announced he handed in his transfer request was of shock, anger, chiefly disappointed, and because of the manner of the way he delivered his news by pure effects. Thus, sentiment is hard. And now the longer the silence goes on from Messi. He hasn't said anything. He hasn't said anything since. The two defeats and more importantly, since he handed in this request for transfer.

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It's not the way the dispersal funds are saying the press here. It's not the way the greatest player in history should behave. Messy like Ronaldo would be the grace or it's the only relevant example we have because of the stature of as well. He had a similar impact at Real Madrid. But Miss his connection with Spurs far outweighs anything. Any relationship Ronaldo had was with Real Madrid. This is a guy, Messi, who joined the club at 13.

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And it's really important also to stress that LaMacchia is the pillar of the cornerstone of a person's identity and that Messi is the they use the training ground at the nursery where they learn the game.

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And all these great players, Iniesta, Jarvie, have all come out of that great Academi, if you like. Exactly.

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It's a mess is the embodiment of this academy because he's been so great, like birdbaths the funds from any Barsa funds, they're proudest moment would have been that picture of Messi and Javi smiling on the podium at the Balanda or towards the three of them shortlists together, all of them from their youth academy. It was an extraordinary moment, just an aligning of the stars. So Messi came to the club at 13. And it's it's also an extraordinary story because was huge resistance to him, to the club signing him at the time.

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He was a pioneer and nobody was doing these trans-Atlantic deals for 13 year olds at this stage, none of that nobody on the board wanted to sign. And they all said, this guy is it is because of his size. He was undergoing hormone growth hormone treatment at the time on the day he arrived for his first trial in September, two thousand euros onto the pitch and the fact it was up to his waist and he was thought so. Yeah.

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And so the club didn't believe in him. It was going to cost him a huge amount of money in relative terms because they according to FIFA regulations, they're going to have to ship over his family as well, give a job to his father, dragged its feet for nine months, didn't want to sign, and maybe Messi went backwards and forwards to Argentina, one of the directors, and put him up in an apartment and paid for his growth hormone treatment out of his own pockets.

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He just bet on him. So eventually they did the deal. Messi stayed and he flowered into the greatest player in history, arguably. Yes. So and he's he's got a huge connection with the club as well. He's a company man, is unusual for senior players at Burset in that he he doesn't have a home physio or he doesn't go outside the club for medical treatment. Right. He is when he goes to the club, he has huge connections with all the trainers there from the academy asking about their kids and stuff.

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Yeah. And so it's deeply, deeply upsetting that he would turn his back on the club like this. So coldly, they're saying that it's belligerent behavior, the becoming of a guy like a mercenary, like Neymar. He would go well from training and not explain himself. So the longer the silence goes on and the more frustrated and obsessed sparser fans are. Now, look at the end of the day. Ninety nine percent of the fans are on Messi side, the people that forgive him any any indiscretions over these couple of weeks.

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But they are very, very upset.

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And it's the language it's like it's almost like a family that he belongs to. After twenty years and having come through the academy with all the vicissitudes you've just referred to, having to go home to Argentina to come back being so small. But the other thing, of course, is he is a family man. He has children, his wife. They're very happy. They've lived their living actually quite close to Suarez, who is also about to be booted.

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And maybe that was the trigger. And that's a good message to send this bureau. Thanks. Um, there's a long way to go before you think of him going to Manchester with his family, with his children, moving schools. I mean, the people involved in all of that, for somebody of Massey's disposition, am still strikes me to be the biggest, if you like, obstacle to this move taking place, Richard. Not money, just the upheaval to his life, his children's life, and, of course, his wife's life, it's massive, isn't it?

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Yeah, he's he's totally he's a very private man and an introvert by by nature. I mean, this is a guy who when he was a kid, he was he was he was so shy, the teacher at his primary school. And Rosario had trouble communicating with him. She had to get a boy that sat behind him to translate or interpret pharmacy. He's deeply reserved, private man. And he said time and again that he wanted to retire at the city or retire at the club and stay in the city.

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He's ruled out over the last couple of years. A romantic return to Newell's old boys is his original club back in Rozario, because it would be too disruptive to move his family who were settled in schools here. And he's he's obviously deep connections. He goes on holidays every every summer back to Rosario in normal times. And at Christmas, he went back there to get married and in twenty seventeen. So he's got ties to Rosario. He doesn't have any connection with the city of Manchester, a country that doesn't speak his language.

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So that would be hugely disruptive for him. And you can imagine how much that is weighing on his on his mind. Yes.

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Although Bielsa, a former Newton's old boys coach, has just taken Leeds into the Premier League. So maybe he'll go insightfully.

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Yeah, there's their stadium is called New Stadium is called after. Beltzer Yes. Yes. New Tallboys Guardiola has described them as the the best coach in the world.

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Just final question, Richard, about the training tonight. And one assumes if he didn't turn up for the covid test, he can't go to training because he might be jeopardizing the health of all the players. Correct. And clearly, the Wednesday meeting between his father and the club is is massive. And the other the final question I have to ask you is your own view of how this plays out when we factor in everything, particularly the the last thing we talked about, which is his family, his family's happiness, his children and his wife and being uprooted and the Manchester weather and all of that.

[00:22:48]

What's your own gut feeling? Has it has he sort of broken the ties with the club?

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Yeah, everybody's dying to hear him speak and come out and explain himself. Is it the relationship and the absolutely broken relationship with Barton who so much to answer for? Is that the problem is that the sporting project, again, that would tie back to the mayor's handling of the club, he's gone through five sporting directors in the last five years. Yes. Joanne Laporta, during the first half of his career, he was president there for seven years. He had one sporting director, Chiqui Biggera Stein, who's Nomen City's sporting director.

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So that spoke of the solidity and the consistency that was operating. The club had a vision at the time. Is it is it the money he's going for? Is it Guardiola? Everybody wants to know what he's feeling.

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Is it Richard? Possibly Ronald Coleman. He came back from the new head coach. Kuman is a substantial figure in the game. He scored the winning goal in a European Cup final for Barcelona if my memory serves me. But he certainly was an outstanding player. And there's a bit of a hero now. He's become the new head coach. Massey came back last week to meet him from his holiday, if that meeting was short and didn't go well and if Ronald Cummings said at great pleasure, but I'm the boss and I don't want any more of this dressing room power stuff, which is quite conceivable that someone of human stature will deliver that kind of message that that may have been the thing.

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Yeah, that's exactly what he said. And they had that meeting the day after Coolman was unveiled as the new coach of what Coolman said to him. And this is the comment that has been has been leaked, is that your privileges on this team are over? No, I'm the boss, to use your phrase, and you'll have to ruin with me. I'm going to be inflexible. And it's all about the team, though. The squad and messes response to Coolman was that he felt he was more than in.

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We don't know where these leaks have come from, whether they've come from his camp or from birth. AMAYO The president's camp, it's more likely they've come from the Obama camp. But the tone of the messages or the content of the messages we can accept has been pretty spot on, that there is a big problem with player power at the club and this is deep seated. And it goes back to the oldest team's coach, Lewis Enrique's time as coach.

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The only thing he said when he got the news that Coleman was being unveiled as the new head coach was his biggest problem is going to be managing that dressing room. If we look back at the at the short tenure of Coleman's predecessor, Kicky Sathian, I mean, it was it was an absolute train wreck. And, yeah, he didn't believe in him from day one. He came in in January midseason. And the senior players didn't believe in him.

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They didn't set in, used to have briefing sessions on the opponents. They were playing in upcoming matches. Sometimes the players wouldn't show up to those meetings. They didn't even give excuses. Messi and Suarez both criticized Sathian in in press interviews while he was still a coach. And The Doughty's exercises training exercises for silly and overcomplicated. Sathian had to step in one day between Hether Sarabia was set, the assistant coach and Messi to stop them fighting this guy.

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Sarabia is a buffoon whose father was a great player with Bilbao in the eighties, a former teammate, Scythians. So that's the the player power in the dressing room. They run the team, they told Sathian, not leave the kids on the bench today. Bring them on at the end if you want. But, you know, it was the old sacred cows, as they call them here in the press. They run the dressing room. So that was the situation that Coleman has walked into.

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He wanted to to tackle the player power. And the problem is it's been so deep seated, the president has abdicated responsibility. He's never tried to tackle that player power. It's the situation at Real Madrid would be hugely relevant to the president there, Florentino Perez. He overindulged his his galactically during his first term as president from 2000 to 2006. He came back in 2009. He said he wasn't going to tolerate any more messing from the dressing room. Remember last year we spoke about it.

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Sergio Ramos tried to muzzle Florentino Perez into contract renewal. He emerged of his office with his brother, who was his agent, and his lawyer was trying to leverage interests that Chinese club had and to get a plus a good new contract. A new Paris sent him packing sent into the hills. He got no contract renewal. Worries about a man who is just throwing money at his players, giving them all long, lucrative contracts. These senior players, these all these guys are essentially over the hill giving them contracts like Biscuit's until twenty twenty three, Albarran to twenty twenty four.

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And they're negotiating with Luis Suarez at the moment to get him out of the job. They're going to have to pay off the remaining year in his contract. And that to me was created that mess. He hasn't had the strength to to manage the club effectively. He's just left the dressing room to manage around Messi, the number ten over the last few years. And that's what Coleman is talking. It's it's not a pretty sight.

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I just ask question which only talking about football, which I think. European club club called the most important of the least important things in life, I just wonder, given the awful public health crisis and economic crisis that affects every country now, including Spain and particularly Spain in some regards. Where is this story ranking among people in Spain at the moment and the media? Are they is it really as big a story as one imagines it might be?

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Oh, yeah. Look, it's it's like when the Beatles broke up, it's it's huge. Every day people are focusing about it. I mean, it's an escape. There's nothing else from the situation with the coronavirus. But, yeah, for people in Barcelona, in the city, everybody is talking about.

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OK, Richard, very grateful to you for joining us from Barcelona. And Richard Advantage is an Irishman and a very good journalist working in that beautiful city. And I know, Richard, you'll keep us up to date with all of this, including the meeting with Barton Mayo and his father, which is due to take place on Wednesday. Thank you very much indeed. Thanks to all of you for listening and a big thanks to Tasco, our sponsor. That's all we have time for now.

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We'll talk to you soon.