(Reuters) – For the second time in a month football dominated both the front and back pages of newspapers in Argentina as a shocked nation dissected the news that Lionel Messi was leaving Barcelona.
A month after the Rosario-born superstar led the national team to their first major title in 28 years, Messi was again the centre of attention as the club announced he would end his 18-year relationship with them and not sign a new playing contract.
Following Diego Maradona’s death last year, Messi is the best-known face in Argentine sport and a category apart for the country’s media.
Most news sites have sections dedicated to domestic leagues, the national team, rugby and other sports. Most also have one exclusively for Messi, such is the volume of news he generates.
So the unexpected news of his split with Barcelona dominated the headlines in his homeland, with some newspapers live blogging the news and updates.
Broadcaster TyC Sports had 14 Messi-related stories on their home page; the normally staid La Nacion and sports newspaper Ole had seven each.
Television and radio discussed the reasons for the split and speculated on where he might go now. Some even had correspondents reporting live from outside Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium.
Messi had been expected to sign a deal to keep him at the club he joined as a 13-year old but the Catalan giants were unable to restructure their finances and remain within La Liga’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, even as Messi was reported to have accepted a reduced salary.
La Liga chief Javier Tebas said last month that Barcelona, who have a total debt of more than 1 billion euros ($1.18 billion), would not be shown any leniency when it comes to obeying the league’s strict financial control rules.
The news of Messi’s exit came a day after La Liga agreed in principle to sell 10% of a newly formed company housing most of its business to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners for 2.7 billion euros.
In addition to the news of his departure, much of Thursday’s coverage involved memes, statistics and recaps of Messi’s glittering career.
Some tried to explain the CVC deal and the FFP regulations.
Others seemed to find it all a bit hard to believe. La Nacion asked: ‘What if Messi stays at Barcelona?’
($1 = 0.8451 euros)
(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Christian Radnedge)