Last week, Spanish newspaper El Mundo published the details of Lionel Messi's multi-year contract with Spanish soccer club FC Barcelona. According to the report, the Argentinian superstar, by many considered the best soccer player to ever play the game, is payed over 555 million euros ($855m CAD) over a four-year period by the Catalan club. If correct, this would mean that he earns a gigantic 168.5 million euros ($260m CAD) each season and would make him the highest payed athlete ever. If you don't already think that number is ridiculously high, Messi played 44 games for FC Barcelona in the previous season. This would mean he is payed 3.8 million euros ($5.9m CAD) per game, or roughly €40.000 ($61.500 CAD) for every minute of soccer he played last season.
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Naturally, the entire sporting world reacted, mostly enraged. How could it could be justified for any athlete to make that amount of money? Especially, considering that Barcelona is currently €1.17 billion in debt, and struggling to attract any new players due to a lack of funds. Soccer pundits were quick to point out the ridiculous financial situation the business of soccer is in with clubs paying outrageous amounts of money, often money they don't even have, for players. This news seems even more out of touch with reality since it is presented in a time when soccer clubs are hit extremely hard by the pandemic. Due to the ban on fans in stadiums and leagues being shut down, many clubs across Europe's leagues have had to lay off staff and are struggling to make ends meet. However, I don't think it is fair to look at the contract in this way, since it was signed almost four years ago, when the world looked completely different. It is fair to say that this contract rubbed many if not most people the wrong way.
There was also a small group of people who looked at this contract and didn't see anything outrageous or scandalous. These people looked at the numbers and simply analyzed them from an economic perspective. During the time of this contact, Lionel Messi has earned FC Barcelona an estimated €1 billion. This income is from ticket sales, merchandise such as jerseys and simply the global reputation Messi brings with him to Barcelona. You can argue whether paying more than %50 of that income to the player is a good deal but if you look at the contract this way, it might seem like a more logical economic decision.
On the other hand, when I read the news about this contract, I thought of something completely different: what a psychological burden it must be! For professional athletes, financial worth brings with it a certain expectation of performance. The athlete is only worth this much to a club if they can perform at their highest level every single time. That way the club can make the money back. Imagine warming up before a game, looking over to the opponent and thinking: "I earn more than their entire squad combined". That brings more pressure than I can ever imagine since in essence, it means that you should beat that team on your own. If you have a bad game, you know you just wasted €3.8 million of your club's money. This contract also means that Lionel Messi is the player with the highest expectations in the world and that makes his consistent elite performance even more impressive. A day after the contract was leaked, FC Barcelona, with Messi in the starting line-up, played against Athletic Bilbao and Messi simply did what he does best, scoring goals. His free-kick helping the team win the game 2-1 and move up to the second place in the league. Obviously, Messi has had many years to learn how to deal with this pressure and expectation but last weekend's game shows just how good he is physically, but more importantly mentally.
Whether you think this contract is fair, justified or simply out of touch with reality, there is no denying that being able to deal with the psychological stress it produces is extremely impressive. Maybe, we should just focus on that and not get distracted and discouraged by the numbers.