There are seemingly only a few options available to Messi.
Lionel Messi looks almost certain to depart Barcelona after the Argentine forward officially asked to leave the club.
Messi is arguably the greatest footballer in history. Over the last 15-years with Barca, he has won every trophy possible and broke almost every record.
Messi, no matter what happens next, will be remembered as Barcelona’s best-ever player. But who will he join if he does leave the Catalan club?
Messi’s issues with Barcelona
It is difficult to imagine Barcelona without him, yet Messi is understood to have grown weary of the mismanagement by the board in recent seasons.
The Catalan club reached their nadir with the 8-2 hammering by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, a humiliating result which appears to have confirmed for Messi that he needs to get out.
The Argentine’s meeting with Ronald Koeman, the new Barca coach, did not help the situation.
Koeman told Messi that his ‘privileges’ with the club have come to an end – which is akin to telling Leonardo da Vinci that he’ll have to buy his own paints. Luis Suarez, Messi’s best friend and teammate, has also been told to leave the club.
Messi, seemingly, has had enough. The 33-year-old had always said he would finish his career with Barcelona. Yet, it is looking increasingly likely that there is no way back.
Messi says there is a clause in his contract which enables him to leave for free. Barcelona have said he will only depart if a club plays his €700m buyout clause. It’s possible that a bid north of €200m might tempt the cash-strapped club to let an unhappy player leave.
Here is what could happen next.
No chance of Messi going to the US or China
Messi, despite being possibly the greatest footballer in history, has limited options.
Realistically, there are only a handful of teams who could afford his wage-packet and offer him the opportunity to compete for the game’s biggest prizes.
Before exploring those options, it is worth ruling out the leagues and teams Messi will definitely not be moving to.
Firstly, no MLS team can afford to sign him and a move to the United States will not be on the agenda for him at this point in his career.
He wants to leave Barcelona to win the Champions League again. A move to MLS wouldn’t make any sense.
Likewise the Chinese Super League. Unlike Gareth Bale, who was determined to join a team in China last summer, Messi isn’t prepared to become a semi-retired footballer/semi-pro golfer.
He wants to win trophies and cement his legacy as the greatest ever.
European clubs not in contention
We can also rule out any club not competing in the Champions League and several of the continent’s top teams.
Liverpool have won the Premier League, the European Cup and the Club World Cup over the last year or so. But they aren’t going to shatter their wage structure to sign Messi.
Bayern Munich won the Champions League, but would never allocate Messi’s current salary – a reported €1m a week – to one player.
There is another factor to add to the equation – the financial impact of COVID-19 on football clubs.
All clubs will be affected. And most will be looking to cut costs, rather than add to their wage-budget. However, shipping out unwanted players will be harder than ever, making funds tight.
As such, we can probably rule Juventus out of the contention. Many fans would love to see Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi team up, but it does not seem feasible.
The Italian club could never afford both players. While Juventus are reportedly looking to shed several players from their first-team squad to save money.
If this was the NBA, Messi could be traded for several players and some draft picks. Yet, in the world of football transfer fees, player moves are more complicated. So, Messi is left with just a few options.
Messi’s representatives have reportedly made contact with Manchester City, who are said to be putting together a deal worth €500m.
City would pay Barcelona a €200m transfer fee and Messi €300m in salary across a three-year contract. The Argentine would then see out his career with New York City FC, Man City’s sister club.
Messi to Man City seems like the most likely move at this juncture. He would reunite with Pep Guardiola, his former Barcelona coach with whom he shared tremendous success, and City have the resources required to pull off the deal.
Whether Messi wants to swap sunny Barcelona, his home for almost 20 years, for rain-soaked Manchester, however, remains to be seen.
It is also questionable if Messi, at 33, wants to be coached again by the demanding and highly-strung Guardiola and his tactical tinkering.
The Argentine can no longer press the way Guardiola wants his players to and certainly won’t run anywhere near as much as he did 10 years ago.
Both sides would need to compromise for this deal to work.
Manchester United are one of the few who can afford Messi. Like other clubs, they will take a hit from the COVID-19 shutdown, but Man United remain a commercial powerhouse and one of the richest sports teams on the planet. They have reportedly contacted Messi’s father to sound him out about a move for the player.
However, it seems extremely unlikely that Messi will leave Barcelona for Man United. If he’s going to move to Manchester, it will be for City, not United.
Yet, on the pitch at least, it could be a very interesting fit for the forward. Man United have exactly what the current Barcelona team lack – searing pace in the final third.
With Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood making runs for him and stretching defences, Messi would be a formidable addition.
That jump. 👏
That header. 👏
Messi vs Man United in Rome. Magic.
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) June 26, 2020
Inter Milan may seem like a surprise inclusion, but the Chinese owners of the Italian club – the Suning group – have very deep pockets. Zhang Jindong, who owns Suning, is worth almost $10b. While the club reportedly held talks with the player and his representatives in the past.
Messi’s former agent has said the 33-year-old will join Inter. While Messi’s father, and current agent, has reportedly bought a property in Milan, near Inter’s new headquarters.
There is also the appeal of living in Milan rather than Manchester and remaining in the Mediterranean.
Italy, meanwhile, offers advantageous tax rates for players, as footballers moving to the country are given a tax exemption of 50 per cent of their salary.
And finally, Barcelona are reportedly interested in signing Inter forward Lautaro Martinez. So, a swap plus cash deal could be on the cards.
As a state-owned club, PSG are one of a few teams who could afford Messi. Yet, the Qatari-owned club are reportedly wary of breaking Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules by moving for Messi.
It is, however, possible that PSG’s desperate desire to win the Champions League might prompt them to try to find a way to land the player.
There is no question that, on the pitch, it would be an incredible fit. Messi would team back up with Neymar, a player he never wanted to leave Barcelona and pushed for the club to re-sign. With Kylian Mbappe, the trio would be the most deadly front-line in world football.
The less-demanding French league may also suit Messi as he enters the later stages of his career.
Most likely move: Manchester City
Outside chance: Inter Milan
Unlikely: Paris Saint-Germain
No chance: Manchester United
The most ideal scenario, however, is if Messi remains at Barcelona and sees out his career with the Catalan club. Yet, that seems increasingly unlikely.