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5 most painful goodbyes in football in recent memories

Argentine forward Lionel Messi left Spanish football club Barcelona after more than two decades. The iconic footballer broke down at a press conference held after the news was announced and so did his fans around the world. Indeed, it will forever be remembered as one of the most painful goodbyes in football.

However, this is not the first time a player’s goodbye has been so emotional. In recent years, there have been similar departures where a handful managed to hold back their tears.

Players form long-lasting bonds with their managers and teammates. Some liken it to that of a band of brothers, with the manager appearing as a father figure.

Thus, it is evident that leaving a club after spending years is felt deeply by the players. Loyal fans, many of whom grow up watching their favourite footballer in action, feel the loss of departure as strongly.

The attachment is so strong that even if a player has attained numerous successes with a particular club, he will always be remembered as part of that very club no matter how many more he may have played with later on. For instance, the late Diego Maradona is eternally linked to Napoli. He reached his zenith in club career with the Serie A team and won two league titles among others. This is why the city of Naples, where Napoli is based, was in mourning following the death of its “saint” on 25 November 2020.

Here are some other painful goodbyes in football, in which some of the most famous players parted ways with clubs where they built their careers and the reasons that led to their departures.

Lionel Messi bids adieu to Barcelona

painful goodbyes in football
Image credit: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP

On 11 August, 2021, a new chapter in the history of football began as Messi was presented to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) before a sea of jubilating supporters at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. The Argentine legend smiled and waved like a newly crowned emperor before his exulting subjects as their chants rose to a crescendo.


The scenes were joyous for PSG fans from around the world. And why should it not be? One of the greatest footballers in the history of the sport (excuse me, Ronaldo fans) has joined their club! But only three days ago and about 1,000 kilometres away, the Spanish city of Barcelona was shrouded in gloom.

The 34-year-old footballer had spent 21 years of his life with Barca. At the auditorium of Camp Nou — the club’s home — Messi couldn’t hold back his tears as he tried to speak at his last press conference for FC Barcelona.



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But why did the captain of the Argentina international team leave Barca? It is because of La Liga’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.

According to these rules, every team has a cap on the salaries paid to its players. This is known as wage-to-turnover. Like other teams, Barcelona’s wage-to-turnover percentage is 70. Even if Messi had played for free, Barcelona’s wage-to-turnover percentage would have been 95 — much higher than the limit imposed by La Liga. Simply put, Barca was in no position to retain Messi.

At the press conference, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner said that he wanted to stay with the club but it didn’t work out because of the league rules.

“My contract was never the issue … What I know is that I did everything I could. The club says it could not happen because of La Liga. I can guarantee you that I did everything I could to stay. Last year, I didn’t want to and I said that, but this year, it was different,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters. Those in attendance witnessed in Messi’s face what painful goodbyes in football actually looks like.

On 6 August, a day after Barcelona announced Messi’s exit, Joan Laporta, the club’s president said, “Leo wanted to stay and the club wanted him to stay, but with the La Liga rules it has not been possible.”

Thus, La Liga rules technically came in the way of Messi’s continuation with Barca, of which he is the all-time highest goalscorer with 672 goals.

David Beckham leaves Manchester United

David Beckham
Image credit: Paul Barker/AFP

One of the most famous faces in football history, David Beckham, continues to sell many a brand year even after his retirement. However, it was exactly this commercial fame that came in the way of his professional relationship with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, leading to his departure to Real Madrid in 2003.

Beckham joined the Red Devils in 1991 and made his senior debut the following year. Soon, he made headlines as an outstanding player in the midfield, especially on the right flank. His excellent ball control, precise passing and situational awareness created opportunities for the team. Above all, Beckham was renowned for his free-kick and is considered one of the greatest spot kick takers of all time.

Everything seemed fine till Beckham’s relationship with Ferguson started to go downhill. In Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography, which was released in 2013, the legendary football manager threw light on why the star footballer “had to go”.

According to Ferguson, their relationship reached a tipping point after United’s defeat to Arsenal in one of the FA Cup matches in 2003. However, tensions had been simmering between the two even before the match, and there were frequent arguments, as Beckham’s United teammate Ryan Giggs revealed in an interview with beIN SPORTS in 2020.

Ferguson was at odds with Beckham’s increasing focus on commercial pursuits outside football and expressed it in as many words.

“I felt uncomfortable with the celebrity aspect of his life,” he wrote. At a press conference around the time of the launch of the book, Ferguson also pointed at Beckham’s personal life, saying that his relationship with Spice Girls icon Victoria “changed everything”.

Ferguson believed that a manager is above a player.

“The minute a Manchester United player thought he was bigger than the manager, he had to go,” he wrote in his autobiography.

But things came to a head after the loss to Arsenal. A furious Ferguson kicked a football boot in the dressing room that hit Beckham right above the eye.

Recalling the incident, Ferguson wrote in his autobiography, “He was around 12 feet from me. Between us on the floor lay a row of boots. David swore. I moved towards him, and as I approached, I kicked a boot. It hit him right above the eye.”

Beckham was later spotted with a patch on the injury.

The incident catalysed Beckham’s acrimonious exit from Old Trafford, becoming one of the most painful goodbyes in football. And thus, after playing 388 matches, 85 goals and 101 assists, for the Red Devils, Beckham joined La Liga giants Real. He would later go on to play for MLS side LA Galaxy, Serie A team AC Milan and Ligue 1 club PSG before retiring as one of the greatest of the game in 2013.

Years later, the former English footballer later admitted that his conduct back then disintegrated relations. In a 2017 interview with BBC, he said, “There were certain decisions I made back then that were wrong and I can see why the manager got so frustrated.”

Aaron Ramsey parts ways with Arsenal

Aaron Ramsey painful goodbyes
Image credit: Glyn Kirk/AFP

The Wales international had joined The Gunners in 2008 but soon suffered an injury that kept him out of the team for some time. As he recuperated, he went on to play for Nottingham Forest and Cardiff on loan. After making a full recovery, he finally returned to Arsenal in 2011. Ramsey went on to win three English FA Cups and two English Super Cups for the team.

In a total of 369 matches, he scored 64 goals and made 62 assists in The Gunners jersey. But the ghosts of injuries haunted Ramsey, and he had to be sidelined in between spells.

Former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger told beIN SPORTS, in an interview, that Ramsey wanted to remain in the team but the management didn’t want to extend his contract when their deal was coming to an end in 2019.

“They had an agreement and the club came back on that, from what I understood. I tried a long time to extend his contract but sometimes you have influences of agents as well,” said Wenger.

Ramsey was released as a free agent, and he signed a pre-contract agreement with Serie A giants Juventus.

However, in 2019, a hamstring injury forced him out of Arsenal’s Europa League quarter-final encounter with Napoli. He was ruled out for the rest of the season, and his tenure with Arsenal came to an abrupt end.

In May that year, he was presented with a memento along with a guard of honour by his teammates at the end of Arsenal’s match with Brighton and Hove Albion at the Emirates Stadium. An emotional Ramsey was seen wiping his tears during the on-field ceremony as curtains fell on his 11-year career with the club. For his fans at Arsenal, it was one of the most painful goodbyes in football.

“Obviously it’s very emotional, it’s been a hell of a journey. Eleven years of my life, so much has happened in that, when I look back. You can tell by my voice how much it means to me,” he was quoted as saying by Sky Sports.

At Juventus, he won the Serie A championship, Italian Cup and Italian Super Cup. Although he earns US$ 555,000 per week and is one of the highest-paid players in Europe, Ramsey has said that his stay at the Turin-based club has been “very difficult”.

As injuries continued to plague him, the midfielder made only 22 league appearances in the last season of Serie A. Speculations are rife about his departure from the Italian top flight and back into the European league, possibly with Arsenal.

Sergio Agüero takes leave of Manchester City

Sergio Aguero
Image credit: Premier League/Twitter

“We cannot replace him,” said Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola when speaking about Argentine forward Sergio Agüero after the club’s season-ending Premier League match against Everton on 23 May, 2021.

Agüero, who is also known as Kun Aguero, is City’s most successful goalscorer and the most decorated player.

The club won the match 5-0 against Everton where Agüero struck a brace to reach his 184th Premier League goal. This meant that he had set a new record for the most goals in a Premier League from a single club, breaking former Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney’s feat.

While the chants of his name reverberated both inside and outside the stadium, he was presented a guard of honour by players of both teams before the kick-off. Following the match, a grinning Aguero said at a special ceremony, “I want to say thanks to everyone, the staff but also the fans.”



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Although the club had confirmed his departure in March 2021, it had announced that his statue will stand alongside former teammates Vincent Kompany and David Silva at the Etihad Stadium.

Agüero had arrived at Man City (and Premier League) from La Liga club Atlético de Madrid in 2011. It was here that he won various accolades like winning the Premier League five times (including last season).

On 29 May, the legend played his final match in City’s jersey — the UEFA Champions League final against Chelsea. Although his team lost the match, Agüero’s legacy had already been inscribed in stone.

A winner of the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal and the 2021 Copa América for Argentina national team, Agüero now heads to Barcelona. However, on 9 August, the club announced that he has been ruled out for 10 weeks due to an injury.

Sergio Ramos ends association with Real Madrid

This has been one of the most painful goodbyes in football for fans of the player and Real Madrid. The legendary Spanish defender spent sixteen seasons with Los Blancos, the nickname for Real Madrid. Ramos arrived at Real from Sevilla in 2005, becoming the first Spanish player to be signed during the club’s Galácticos era.

As a centre-back for Los Blancos, he had become a mainstay of the defence of the La Liga giants and went on to be more than a master of extremely effective tackles. Considered one of the greatest defenders in the history of football, Ramos is also renowned for his incredible goalscoring ability. In 671 matches he played for Real, Ramos scored 101 goals and contributed with 40 assists.

Throughout his career, the football great won 22 trophies for the club. These include five La Liga titles, four Champions League, four FIFA Club World Cup and a FIFA World Cup. A gifted leader, he also captained the team to numerous successes post 2015.



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A post shared by Sergio Ramos (@sergioramos)

However, on 17 June, the legend welled up with tears when it was time to bid adieu to the game at the club’s Valdebebas training ground.

“One of the most difficult moments in my life has arrived, you are never prepared to say goodbye to Real Madrid but the time has come,” Ramos was quoted as saying by Reuters.

At the press conference, Ramos said that he “never wanted to leave Real Madrid” and that he was offered a one-year contract with a salary reduction. However, the footballer added that he wanted a two-year extension but had to agree to the one-year contract.

Later, he learnt that the “offer had an expiry date”, and it had lapsed without him knowing about it. However, Ramos clarified that he did not blame Real president Florentino Perez, adding that they share an “extraordinary” relationship.

The 35-year-old Ramos will now play for Ligue 1 club PSG following a two-year deal with the club.

(Main image: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP)

(Featured image: Pau Barrena/AFP)

Manas Sen Gupta
Manas enjoys reading detective fiction and writing about anything that interests him. When not doing either of the two, he checks Instagram for the latest posts by travellers. Winter is his favourite season and he can happily eat a bowl of noodles any time of the day.