With Lionel Messi's time at Paris Saint-Germain drawing to a close, the Argentine forward will soon reveal his future -- but hopes of a romantic return to Barcelona are fading.
Messi, who turns 36 in June, is Barcelona's all-time record goalscorer and biggest icon and was forced to wave a tearful goodbye in 2021 at the end of his contract, with the club unable to afford to keep him.
Coach Xavi Hernández has been pushing hard for the World Cup winner to come back, but Messi's camp has told Spanish media no offer from Barcelona has arrived yet.
"For me there is no doubt that if Messi comes back he will help us on a footballing level, that's what I've let the president know," Xavi told Spanish daily Diario Sport.
Barcelona are waiting for La Liga to approve a financial viability plan ahead of spending in the summer transfer window.
"At the moment it seems difficult for Messi to return to Barça," said La Liga president Javier Tebas in April. "Barça are not like PSG, who have a fuel tap and money for a big salary."
La Liga's financial fair play rules currently limit Barcelona to spending 40 percent of any savings made through salary cuts or player sales, because of the club's losses.
Even if they bring in enough new income to break free of the league's financial handcuffs, what they can offer Messi would be modest.
By contrast, elsewhere Messi will be paid a king's ransom, into the hundreds of millions.
A source close to the deal told AFP in May the forward has an agreement to move to the Saudi Arabian league, joining his former Real Madrid sparring partner Cristiano Ronaldo in the Gulf state.
Many Barcelona fans and coach Xavi would like Messi to add a much-needed coda to a story left incomplete by his shock departure.
The forward arrived at Barcelona at 13 years old and departed without a proper goodbye to supporters, who at that point were still shut out of stadiums because of the pandemic.
Messi showed by leading Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar that he can still deliver at the elite level when motivated.
The forward is favourite to win the Ballon d'Or and remains sublime at breaking down stubborn defences, something Barca have struggled with even on their way to winning La Liga this season.
His return would be costly in terms of wages but, without a transfer fee, could still represent good value for a club hungry for short-term success.
"Reclaiming" Messi's legacy is a positive in its own right, ensuring he finishes his career at the club where he spent two decades.
The romance of a fairytale return and chance to seal his glorious chapter in the club's history are tempting, but with Barcelona moving forward and transforming, it could be a mistake for both club and player to turn back to the past.
Some believe Barça should not direct a significant chunk of their limited financial resources towards an ageing great when there are clear areas where the squad needs improvement.
Xavi has said replacing veteran holding midfielder Sergio Busquets, who is departing, is the key to any success next season.
Barcelona also need a first choice right-back, a back-up for striker Robert Lewandowski and a left winger.
Some fans are worried a return for Messi may tarnish his brilliant legacy at Barcelona and hamper the team's progress at the same time.
Messi may consider that in terms of his legacy there is more to lose than gain by returning to Barcelona.
French champions PSG host Clermont in their final Ligue 1 match of the season on Saturday, with Messi's future set to take centre-stage after that.
by Rik Sharma, AFP