Lionel Messi has left Barcelona with the cash-strapped Spanish giants unable to afford the new deal to keep the Argentine superstar – and Paris Saint-Germain have emerged as the strong favourites for his signature.
In a post on Twitter on Friday, which drew considerable attention online, Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family with close ties to PSG, wrote that “negotiations are officially concluded,” with an announcement to come. According to reports, the French side plan to unveil Messi as their new summer signing on Tuesday – at the Eiffel Tower.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta said on Friday he was not prepared "to put the club at risk" by renewing Messi's contract, as the club face huge financial problems ahead of the start of La Liga on August 15.
Laporta said Barcelona were no longer negotiating with Messi and the 34-year-old forward was considering other offers, brushing aside claims that the club were attempting to convince the Spanish top-flight’s bosses to loosen the Catalan side’s purse strings.
"The player has other offers and there is a time limit because La Liga starts soon and he needs time to assess his other options," Laporta admitted.
PSG, who bought Neymar from Barcelona for a world-record 222 million euros (US$264 million) in 2017, appear favourites to sign Messi according to reports in France on Friday.
Broadcaster RMC Sport reported that Messi has informed PSG of his desire to join the club and that discussions are ongoing over a two-year deal with the option of a third season.
Le Parisien reported that Messi's father and representative Jorge had reached out to PSG after it became clear the player would not be staying in Catalonia, with some outlets reporting that the player had called PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino directly on Thursday night to discuss a potential move.
"Our president is looking at ways of improving the team," said Pochettino, a fellow Argentine. “In terms of Lionel Messi, we know what happened yesterday.”
Reporting on Friday morning from England said that PSG are aware that Messi is looking at other options, but that they are confident they can sign him, planning to team him up with Neymar and young French superstar Kylian Mbappé.
Manchester City, who attempted to sign him last year, have been linked with a move for years, but the purchase of creative midfielder Jack Grealish for some 139 million euros, ironically on Thursday, has ruled that out. City manager Pep Guardiola, Messi's former coach at the Camp Nou, said yesterday that "right now, it is not in our thoughts, absolutely not."
Laporta said Messi wanted to stay, but said the club would have to move on.
"Leo wanted to stay and he's not happy," said Laporta. "I have told the players that a new stage in Barça's history is beginning and that we have to continue winning without Messi."
Laporta said he felt "sadness and disappointment" but that he "did everything possible" to keep Messi, who joined Barcelona aged 13 and has 672 goals in 778 appearances for the club.
Teammate Sergio Busquets posted a farewell message to Messi on Instagram, writing: "You arrived as a child and leave as the best player in history."
"Leo Messi has been an icon and has left some historic moments. We have eternal gratitude to him," Laporta said.