The new LaLiga season begins under a cloud of uncertainty this weekend without flagbearer Lionel Messi and with Barcelona and Real Madrid in open warfare with the organisation’s president and the other clubs.
Messi’s unexpected departure to Paris Saint-Germain has left a gaping hole in Barcelona’s squad as it contemplates a future without its record scorer, appearance maker and most decorated player around whom the club had built its team.
His departure is also set to harm the club’s already frail financial situation further, with marketing consultant Brand Finance saying the club’s value could drop by up to 11%.
LaLiga’s status as one of the world’s top leagues will also take a hit, with the value of its television rights set to fall and future sponsorship deals also likely to be reduced without the world’s most famous player.
The league used to be renowned for the compelling duel between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the title of the world’s best player and the Argentine was left with little competition when the Portuguese left Real Madrid for Juventus in 2018.
Real forward Karim Benzema, Atletico Madrid’s Luis Suarez and Barcelona’s Antoine Griezmann are now the league’s best-known players but none of them come close to the fanfare Messi and Ronaldo garner across the globe.
The league has another problem on its hands after announcing a cash injection of 2.7 billion euros following a deal with private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, which has been celebrated by many clubs but rejected by Barca and Real.
Real announced it will sue LaLiga president Javier Tebas and CVC chief Javier de Jaime Guijarro over the deal, while Barcelona president Joan Laporta said he refused to accept it. The Spanish football federation has also opposed the move.
The row over the deal, which the league believes will make it more competitive and financially viable, is the latest chapter in divisions between LaLiga and its two biggest clubs following Barca and Real’s bid to launch the failed European Super League.
The good news is that spectators will be back when the action returns, albeit in reduced numbers agreed to by local authorities.
Real Madrid begins its second spell under coach Carlo Ancelotti away to Alaves on Saturday while around 30,000 fans will watch Barcelona host Real Sociedad on Sunday in its first game in 17 years without Lionel Messi in the squad.
Champion Atletico Madrid begins its title defence at Celta Vigo on Sunday, hoping to take advantage of the turmoil surrounding Barca and Real.