Lionel Messi's bombshell request to leave Barcelona is expected to spark a legal battle over a multi-million-dollar buy-out clause but also raises the question of which club could afford him in the heat of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 33-year-old, a six-time Ballon d'Or winner, has not asked for a transfer so he can his feet up for the final years of his career. This is a considered move aimed at adding to his successes, and in one competition in particular – the Champions League.
Those able both to afford the Argentine megastar, who has a reported weekly salary of nearly one million euros, and convince him, may only be Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, with Inter Milan a third, more distant option.
The (very, extremely, ever-so) long shot, of course, is a romantic homecoming at Newell’s Old Boys. Their fans are already dreaming, organising a car-led convoy this week asking the Rosario-born legend to come home to where he started.
Here’s where Messi might land:
Barcelona still hope they can keep Messi at least for another season.The Catalan club said Wednesday that their restructuring project revolves around the Argentine genius.
“We want to rebuild for the future together with the best player in history,” said Ramon Planes, the club’s technical director, said this week. “We are not contemplating any departure on a contractual level because we want him to stay.”
Could Messi's tactics ultimately force regime change at boardroom level and keep him at the Camp Nou?
Many see Manchester City as the most obvious destination, given its Abu Dhabi-backed wealth and presence of three high-ranking former Barcelona officials Messi knows well. Not just coach Pep Guardiola, also chief executive Ferran Soriano and sporting director Txiki Begiristain.
Guardiola is often asked if he could see Messi joining City and always downplays the possibility. “My wish is Messi is going to stay at Barcelona,” he said last month.
Recently, City haven’t been the sort of side to sign so-called “galacticos,” focusing mostly instead on younger and up-and-coming talent. But Messi would surely be an exception to any rule.
Manchester United also have the financial power to land Messi, and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward likes a signature signing.
Chelsea have also been rumoured and, let’s not forget, the left-footed maestro follows the club on Instagram.
Rumours of a move to Inter Milan have run for months because the player and his father have reportedly bought apartments in the city. If true, the reasons could be for tax planning rather than the future.
Another long-standing rumour has been Barcelona’s interest in Inter’s ex-Racing forward Lautaro Martínez, Messi’s 23-year-old teammate at international level.
Could an FFP-friendly deal be worked out with Inter, owned by Chinese conglomerate Suning, which was previously fined by UEFA for breaking the rules?
A move to Inter ould also revive Messi’s storied rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Juve in 2018 after nine years at Real Madrid.
Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel was crystal clear about wanting Messi in his team.
“He’s very welcome. What coach says no to Messi?” said Tuchel, whose side lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich on Sunday. But when making those comments Tuchel thought Messi would stay in Spain, calling him “Mister Barcelona.”
Signing Messi would be a coup for PSG and reunite him with former Barca teammate and friend Neymar. Alongside Kylian Mbappé they would form the most feared strikeforce in the world.
It is unclear if Qatar-owned PSG could actually buy Messi — and pay yet another star's enormous wages — amid intense scrutiny of its FFP accounts.
Officials at Champions League winners Bayern Munich ruled the club out of the race this week, while other rumours that have circulated include a move to MLS in the United States or even China.
The most romantic option, however, is undoubtedly a homecoming to Newell’s Old Boys, which he left aged 13 to head to Barcelona. Messi has always said that he would love to return to the Rosario side one day, which he says he supports.
Fans certainly want him to come home. This week, they arranged a caravan calling on Lionel to join them at the Estadio Marcelo Bielsa for what would undoubtedly be something to savour. Their slogan was: “Tu sueño, nuestra ilusión.”