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 By Sid Lowe

Messi's new contract is met with celebration, some relief by Barcelona

Lionel Messi has signed a new three-year deal to remain with Barcelona until 2021.

Joan Laporta claims there was only ever one moment that he genuinely feared Lionel Messi would leave Barcelona. It was, Laporta thinks, around 2006, although it could have been earlier, and Inter were prepared to pay the Argentine forward's €150m buyout clause. Laporta, then Barca club president, went to Messi's father Jorge and told him: "He'll be happy here, he'll get glory; there, he'll only win financially."

"Your son is destined to be the greatest in history," he said, "and here he'll have a team to help him get there."

Messi signed a new contract, his buyout clause was raised to €250 and he stayed. Eleven years on, this latest deal means his career looks set to end, as he has often said it will, at the Camp Nou. When this contract ends in 2021, he will be 34.

Some already consider him the greatest player in history; in four years' time, the case might even be stronger. He has won five Ballons d'Or, as well as 30 titles, one for every year he has been alive. And he has won financially. Although the details have not been revealed, this new deal is reportedly worth €25m a year, after tax. There is a further €50m re-signing on fee.

It is a lot of money and this at a club that, not so long ago, insisted that photocopies had to be done in black and white, not colour. But no one, no one, doubts that it is money well spent.

El Mundo Deportivo called these "glory days" for Barcelona. Sport hailed the deal as "historic," talking about "immense happiness." And the club's official communiqué was not the standard, cold statement they so often are.

"The club celebrates the continuity and commitment of the best player in history, formed in the youth system, who has played his entire professional career at the club, an emblem of an era of extraordinary, unprecedented success in world football."

Some might wonder if there was a temptation to cash in on Messi as he turned 30, to take a huge amount of money for a player while they still could: It is lovely for a player to retire at his club, to wear the same shirt for his entire career but, by definition, that player never makes any money back.

Read that statement, though; those are powerful reasons: Formed in the youth system, an entire career at Barcelona, emblem of success, era-defining. So, no, no one ever suggested Messi should be sold. Anyone who even entertained the idea kept silent. Or was swiftly silenced.

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi has scored 510 goals in 585 games in all competitions for Barcelona.

Earlier this year, director Pere Gratacós noted that Messi would not be as good without Neymar, Luis Suárez, Gerard Piqué or Andres Iniesta; he was not a director for much longer. When Óscar Grau said that the club had to analyse Messi's contractual situation with "a cool head and common sense," noting "Barca can't spend over 70 percent of the budget on salaries," Suárez replied: "You don't need common sense; you need to renew his contract."

And whatever the cost, not least because renewing Messi is common sense and because the cost of not doing so would probably be greater, for everyone concerned. So the money was found and moves were made to convince him: Suarez and Neymar have also renewed until 2021.

The excited reaction to what is largely unsurprising and maybe even unremarkable news -- player doesn't go anywhere, just signs a new contract -- reveals that, far from having a sneaking suspicion that the time might have come to cash in, the opposite was true: Some had concerns Messi might leave, increasingly often and for many different reasons during the past couple of years.

The reaction speaks of relief, however unrealistic those fears may have been, however clear it seems that even Messi would not find any place better. It has been treated as real news when it should not really come as any surprise. Certainly not now and not even a couple of months ago when the first leaks reassured fans that it would get done. There is always a hint of worry, that tiny nagging doubt.

Messi's relationship with the Barcelona board has not always been perfect, but the briefings from both camps talk of these negotiations being smooth from start to finish. His contract had, though, run worryingly close to its 2018 conclusion.

At €250m -- for context, that's €750m below that of Cristiano Ronaldo -- his buyout clause didn't look like a deterrent any more. It might even have come to look like an opportunity, especially in this market. The chance of running the deal down entirely was even more terrifying for the club. The damage would have been deep.

Quite apart from anything else, letting him go would have been political suicide for a board whose authority and popularity is on the floor. The president Josep Maria Bartomeu needed good news and he needed it now; this was the best of all.

Some things can be forgiven, maybe even forgotten, or at least overlooked; some cannot. Imagine being the president who let Messi leave. "Let him leave" would not be the phrase, in fact; more likely, it would be seen as "pushed him towards the door." Him, Leo Messi: The youth teamer who became the best player in the world, maybe in history.

Maybe even more than that. Writing in El País on Thursday, Ramón Besa reminds us that in the dressing room some teammates call Messi "the president." He arrived as a 13-year-old, his continuity secured with a "contract" written on a napkin 17 years ago; now, he has signed another.

More than ever before, he is Barcelona. At a time of crisis, with court cases and accusations and when there has been much talk of the club losing its footballing religion, Messi is their "God." He is their identity. And he is staying.

Sid Lowe is a Spain-based columnist and journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @sidlowe.


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