Lionel Messi has decided to leave Barcelona and move to English Premier League side Manchester City, according to Argentina's biggest daily newspaper.
Quoting an unnamed source close to Messi, who allegedly has "a long-standing relationship with the player," local outlet La Nación reported Wednesday that the Rosario-born megastar has made the decision to reunite with Pep Guardiola in Manchester.
The quality of Manchester City's football, the presence of his former coach and the chance to play with his friend and fellow national team star, Sergio Agüero, are all points in favour of a move to England, La Nación said.
According to La Nación, the decision to leave Barcelona and move to England was taken by Messi and his wife Antonela Roccuzzo.
"I've made the decision with Antonela to leave Barça. It hurts my soul, but that's it. The cycle has been completed," the source claimed Messi told him.
The unnamed individual also claimed that Messi said he was "going to talk to Pep" in order to "arrange an arrival at City," adding that "the football there [at City] is spectacular."
The report did not feature any quotes from the player himself, nor his representatives.
A story in the Barcelona-based newspaper Sport on Wednesday claimed that City's owners were set to offer Messi a five-year contract, with three spent in Manchester and the final two at New York City, the US club that forms part of the City Football Group.
On Tuesday, in an explosive announcement, Messi informed Barcelona that he wants to "unilaterally" terminate his contract with the Spanish giants.
Multiple reports both in Spain and in Argentina said lawyers for the Albicelete star sent Barça a fax in which they announced the player's desire to rescind his contract by triggering a release clause.
However, the club maintains the clause expired in June and he remains under contract until the end of the 2021 season. A legal battle is now anticipated, given that it would take 700 million euros to prize him away without Barcelona's say so.
City have often been described as the favourites to land Messi, should he actually decide to leave the club, though the Manchester side have always trodden carefully around the prospect of Messi. Many of the club's sporting staff, including Guardiola, sporting director Txiki Begiristain and chief executive Ferran Soriano, have connections with Barcelona that they are keen to respect.
Messi has been at Barcelona for two decades, joining the club in 2000 as a 13-year-old and spending all of his professional career to date with the side. He has won a club-record 33 trophies, including 10 La Ligas, four UEFA Champions Leagues, three Club World Cups and six Spanish Cups.
Equally effective as a mesmerising playmaker or lethal goalscorer, the Albiceleste captain holds the records for most goals and most hat-tricks in La Liga and has scored more than 700 senior goals for club and country.
But his greatest year was long ago. In the 2011-12 season, under Guardiola, he became Barcelona's all-time top goalscorer at just 24 years old, breaking César Rodríguez's 232 goal mark which had stood for 57 years. That year Messi netted a Liga record 50 goals on the way to a European all-time record season tally of 73, breaking Gerd Müller's 67 goals scored in the 1972–73 German season.
Almost a decade on, Messi still harbours unfulfilled ambitions, including another Champions League crown and an elusive major trophy with Argentina to add to his 2008 Olympic gold. With time running out on a career that has seen a record six Ballon d'Ors and six Golden Shoes, those are major factors in convincing him to end his playing days away from the club.
Barcelona's new sporting director Ramon Planes said on Wednesday that Messi's want-away demand was "a very important story," adding that Messi was very much part of the club's plans.
"Our idea at the club is still to build a new winning cycle around the best player in the world. We are not contemplating any kind of departure because what we want is for Messi to stay. You have to have enormous respect for what Messi is and for his history," he said.
"I think the future is positive. I am an optimist. We need experienced players, like Leo Messi... We are putting every effort into ensuring that the relationship between Barca and Messi will continue. We are working internally to convince Leo."