Argentine footballer Lionel Messi has helped Barcelona win ten league titles and four Champions League trophies in the twenty years he’s played for the club. But in August 2020, after a difficult year involving several public disagreements, Messi announced he intended to leave the club.
A little over a week later, Messi reversed his decision to leave the club. After a contract extension in 2017, Messi was set to play for Barcelona until June 2021. But his August announcement was made with the belief that the star could exercise a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave the club unilaterally—and without a transfer fee—as long as he communicated his desire to leave before the end of the season.
But with league schedules disrupted by the pandemic, the Spanish season did not finish on time, but rather months after the date stipulated in Messi’s agreement. Because of these shifts in the timeline, Barcelona’s club president and the Spanish league claimed a €700 million release clause in Messi’s contract was valid. Rather than starting an ugly legal battle with the club where he’s spent his entire professional career, Messi reversed his decision, but made known his disappointment with the management of the club.
What might have been
Had Messi been able to exercise the clause, a few things could’ve happened: Manchester City would have the best player in the world; the English winter (for those who like football), would have been brightened by his gifted ability; and Barcelona would miss their iconic talisman.
After so many loyal years spent dedicated to the Barcelona football program, Messi’s verbal confirmation of his desire to leave was still not enough. And while many view the league’s and the club’s behavior towards a player who has established a deep, emotional connection with Barcelona and its fans, and given so much to the cause as disrespectful, or even spiteful, the fact is, business is business: whether in the B2B SaaS space, or in the world of professional football.
In Messi’s case, a contract was drawn up between all the parties involved with—as we understand it—no ambiguity. The lack of written confirmation not given in accordance with the contract arguably shows a level of naivety from both Messi and his team. As a result, Messi stays at Barcelona, Man City will struggle to keep pace with Liverpool, and Southampton will win the Premier League (maybe not, but it would be nice!).
What does this have to do with contract lifecycle management (CLM)? It’s a clear example of how the fundamental contract between two parties sets the cornerstone of the relationship. If Messi or his team had access to a CLM solution, they would have had better insight into the detail of his contract obligations and given notice of termination in the appropriate way and at the right time—he would now be at Man City.
Why contracts matter
At its purest, what this demonstrates is that contracts are king; in business and in our personal lives. If in doubt, if agreement isn’t reached, if the issue is mildly contentious, it is the contract that will be used to settle a situation. In the case of Messi and Barcelona, this situation could have been a whole lot worse for arguably the most successful club in Europe over the last 20 years.
Commercially, Messi must have hundreds of contracts in place, and hundreds of commitments to honour—life must be exhausting. And while I’m sure he has a team managing this on his behalf (I don’t envisage him sitting at his breakfast bar, sipping an espresso each morning while refreshing his Conga dashboard in Salesforce to check the status of his contracts), it’s an interesting example of how technology (CLM) can simplify the most fundamental and important documentation in the commercial world—the contracts and agreements that exist between multiple parties.
Complete visibility of this level of detail enables a business to make smart decisions, understand the liability and risk they are exposed to, and plan for the future. The value of CLM is the control it gives you over the most important documentation in your business—the contracts.
The footballing future of Europe could have been entirely different if Messi was using that dashboard, but instead it is only a “what if.” A shame for the English Premier league, but a relief for the giant of Barcelona. I wonder if Messi will ever rely on the honour of a conversation again? Somehow, I doubt it.