Lionel Messi has been tipped to leave Barcelona in 2021, the result of mounting problems at Camp Nou. The club’s finances are in a mess, there is criticism of the current board and how the club is run, and things only look like they will get worse before they get better.
Messi has often been linked with moves away from Barça at various points in the past, but frustrations at the club’s growing shortcomings lend at least a degree of plausibility to this one.
Does he go down with a sinking ship, wasting the last few precious years of his career? Or does he bite the bullet and move on while he still can?
The clause that would have allowed him to leave for free this summer has now expired, but Messi’s contract is due to expire at the end of next season, potentially making him a free agent in 2021.
He will have just turned 34 by then but there will no shortage of interest.
Some genuinely plausible and others less so, here are seven clubs he could join…
It is common for South American players in Europe to be linked with their boyhood club, often because they usually left very early in their career. In Messi’s case, he made the switch to Barcelona from Newell’s Old Boys in his native Rosario at the age of just 13.
The superstar himself has acknowledged it is a dream of his to play for Newell’s, although just last year he dampened the possibility because it might not be practical for his family.
“I have the dream of being able to play for Newell’s in Argentina, but I don’t know if it’s really going to happen because I have a family that is ahead of my desire,” he told TyC Sports.
“It’s a dream I’ve had since I was little, but I have a family, I have three children, I live in a place that has given me everything and where I am calm and can give my children a spectacular future. We think much more about that than my desire of playing football in Argentina.”
Imagine the controversy and fall out of Luis Figo moving from Barcelona to Real Madrid in 2000 and multiply it by 1,000. Then you probably still won’t even be close to what would happen if Messi made the transition from Camp Nou to the Bernabeu.
Real president Florentino Perez was described by Mundo Deportivo back in 2014 as being ‘in love’ with Messi and willing to offer a net annual wage of €25m, plus additional bonuses from adidas.
Real coach Zinedine Zidane has already responded to the exit rumours by saying he doesn’t want to see Messi leave La Liga…but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t stay in Spain and join Los Blancos ?
“I don’t know what will happen but we hope not because he is in this league and we want the best in this league,” Zidane said this week.
Would or could Messi actually do that to Barcelona? It depends how much they p*** him off over the course of the next year. Let’s never forget that Johan Cruyff once joined Ajax’s arch rivals Feyenoord for the sake of proving a point back in the early 1980s.
Paris Saint-Germain’s desperation to win the Champions League would surely make Messi an attractive proposition for the French giants.
PSG infamously snatched Neymar from Barcelona in a world record transfer in 2017, the money from which Barça fairly quickly p***ed up the wall, but have still fallen short on the European stage.
Their ambition has previously known little in the way of limits and a two-year contract, say, with all the cost that would entail, might be worth the gamble for them.
It could also have the effect of reuniting Messi with Neymar. And if Kylian Mbappe also commits his long-term future to PSG, can you imagine having those three in one team?
It was a completely different time, but Inter made a serious attempt to sign Messi from Barcelona back in 2008 when he was on the cusp of becoming the best in the world. That was revealed by former Inter director Marco Branca earlier this year in an interview with Libero.
“Yes, we moved for him but Leo did not want to leave Barcelona,” Branca said of the approach.
Inter have remained linked with Messi in the years since and the possibility surface again in 2019 when Pirelli chief executive Marco Tronchetti Provera namedropped the six-time Ballon d’Or winner as a ‘why not?’ option. Earlier this year, former Inter president Massimo Moratti also said that signing Messi is ‘no forbidden dream’ for the Nerazzurri.
Inter are keen to cement their place back among Europe’s elite after close to a decade in the relative wilderness and are owned by the extraordinarily wealthy Suning group.
If Messi simply wants to be at a better run version of Barcelona, he might not need to look much further than Manchester City, who have distinctly modelled themselves on the Catalans.
It is no coincidence that three former Barça employees run the day-to-day business and football operations at the Etihad Campus in chief executive Ferran Soriano, director of football Txiki Begiristain and head coach Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola made the decision to build his Barça team around Messi in the late 2000s and it propelled them to become arguably best side of all time. City were linked with a move for the Argentine even before Pep arrived in Manchester, but that could strengthen any chance they have.
The commercial potential for any club signing Messi is enormous and that screams ‘Manchester United’. When Nike supplied United kits it was rumoured the company would help fund a deal for Cristiano Ronaldo and the same suggestions have been made about adidas and Messi.
The Old Trafford club were most recently linked with Messi earlier this year when his public disagreement with Barça official Eric Abidal hit the headlines.
United have been burned a few times in recent years when signings big names players who aren’t a good fit – Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Alexis Sanchez – and have worked hard to build a new squad. But how often does the chance to sign one of the greatest players of all time come up?
It has been built into one of the biggest rivalries in sporting history and they spent the best part of a decade diametrically opposed on either side of the Clásico divide in Spain. But maybe, just maybe, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo might one day could play together.
It would be an enormous expense for Juventus, who are rumoured to want to cap salaries for new signings to control costs amid the coronavirus crisis. But clubs will hope that the landscape will be more normal in a year’s time, while there could an adidas element here as well.
Although Ronaldo is still very much attached to Nike, for adidas to have both of the world’s era defining superstars housed at one of their partner clubs would be excellent for business.
Could they actually play together, though, or would it be an overbalanced disaster?