Lionel Messi is arguably one of the best footballers of recent years. His record includes virtually all the superlatives of the game – record goalscorer, record trophy winner and seven times winner of the Ballon d’Or – football’s equivalent of the best actor Oscar. In 2003 he joined Barcelona and played in the first team almost continuously from 2005 until 2020 when his immensely lucrative contract came up for renewal. Barcelona had a glittering dominance of Spanish and European club football during many of those years and Messi was an essential member of a wonderful team.
Necessarily, of course, the contract renewal required negotiation. Messi’s nine key demands for the renewal of his contract have recently been highlighted in the press. They make fascinating reading. Before I give you the details, let me say that, from a negotiating viewpoint, his approach ticks a number of good practice boxes: he thought through what he wanted, he clearly quantified it and he presented his requirements in a proposal. Moreover, I think it is fair to say that the components of the proposal can be categorised as “creative”. Let’s see if you agree. They were:
A guaranteed three-year extension to add to a new three-year contract – so that when his new contract expired in 2023, it would automatically be extended to 2026.
A private box at the stadium in Barcelona for his family and the family of another player.
A “one-off” €10 million renewal bonus – just for agreeing to sign the contract which, if it had similar terms to the contract just ending, would be likely to pay him about €71 million a year plus playing bonuses.
Commission for his brother who is his representative.
A €10,000 release clause which would be payable by another club if he was to transfer to them during the contract; his release clause under the expiring contract was €700 million so it would be easier for him to leave Barcelona under the proposed new terms if another club were to offer him a better deal.
Reimbursement of all the wages he had agreed with the club to give up during the pandemic (all of the Barcelona players had agreed to this reduction) with interest on the amount foregone.
A guarantee that if Spanish taxes increased during the contract, he would not lose any net pay.
A private jet to take him home to Argentina at Christmas.
A job guarantee for his personal assistant.
I did say it was creative! But those of you who follow the Beautiful Game will know that Lionel Messi has played for Paris St Germain for the last couple of seasons, his contract at Barcelona having not been renewed. If his approach did tick some boxes where did his approach probably fall short? Barcelona have never made public the demands which they were prepared to meet and those which they were not, but as negotiators, we might be willing to offer the little footballing wizard some advice.
First, make realistic proposals. It’s just possible that people who see you earning more than a million Euros a week may conclude that you could probably afford to hire your own private jet. Moreover, there is more than a whiff of undesirable precedent for the club here and elsewhere in his proposal.
Second, prioritise your objectives – which of these nine are potential deal breakers and would lead to you walking away? If all nine are deal breakers, don’t expect a deal. Understand that negotiation will always require movement from your ideal position so make sure that you are willing to make concessions especially if they lead to you being able to “win” on the critical issues. Advice for Barcelona would be that if Messi did not prioritise, then they should ask him to do so and then bargain to reduce the list of demands.
Third, learn to trade: Spanish taxes are beyond the club’s control so that this potentially open-ended concession might be acceptable if it were changed to become a review of salary before the guaranteed contract extension, if that is important enough to be agreed upon first.
Fourth, the balance of power: judge your leverage correctly and in this case, perhaps he did. Although the relationship with Barcelona ended, Messi did not lack offers from other top teams. So perhaps the nine-item demand list was nice to have known that he could continue as a highly-paid player in Europe for some time and probably beyond that in the USA Major League Soccer at the end of his career. Having a good alternative to an agreement strengthens your hand and pressures the counterparty.
It must be nice to give what I think I must politely call a “digital gesture of dismissal”, if your boss won’t let you take a private jet home and charge it to expenses. I wish!