Lionel Messi Set for Barcelona Exit?

In my eyes, Lionel Messi is the best player in the world. And Barcelona know it too. Messi has been the spearhead of their team for the last decade following the departures of the likes of Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o. Since Messi made his debut against Espanyol 2004 at the age of 17, the Argentine has become arguably their greatest player ever.

Barcelona’s prized asset has been the key to their success over the last decade which saw them dominate both Spanish and European football at one stage in time. Over the last few years, competition has increased with Real Madrid bolstering their squad with two record breaking transfers whilst Bayern Munich enjoyed success in the Champions League. Nevertheless, Messi has carried his side, something single handly, to titles. Under Pep Guardiola, Messi was out of this world. He was mesmerising with the ball at his feet, gliding past players like they weren’t even there. He had the killer instinct and the technique to match which made him seem unstoppable at times. Since Guardiola’s departure, Messi seemed to lose something with him.

However, under Luis Enrique and with the help of Neymar and Luis Suarez, the 28 year old re-found his extraordinary form. Messi was shifted to the right hand side of the attack, his natural position since the start of his career, which allowed Suarez to play through the middle. It was in this setup that Messi arguably enjoyed the best form of his life. His 58 goals added with Neymar and Suarez’s strikes totalled 122 goals; a record for Spanish football. He netted 43 goals in the league, including an 11 minute hat-trick against Rayo Vallecano, but also increased his assist total to 18 which saw him surpass Luis Figo as the player with the most assists in La Liga.

Barcelona ended their season winning an historic treble. Messi’s only goal in a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid secured the title for the Catalans in May, allowing them to focus on another Champions League crown. The Argentina captain faced former mentor Guardiola in the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition and was instrumental once again; scoring two and assisting another. His second goal saw him leave Munich defender Jerome Boateng looking like Sebastian Coates as the former Manchester City man lost his footing after a quick turn before delicately chipping the ball over the best goalkeeper in the world in Manuel Neuer. Barca went on to lift the trophy in Berlin with Suarez re-bounding home Messi’s shot which was parried by Gianluigi Buffon.

Messi has been constantly linked with a move away from Barcelona but reports have never materialised. Some people think that he will retire at the club whilst others believe a move is possible. But will the Argentine ever leave his beloved Barcelona?

There is no doubt that if Messi was to leave Barcelona, it would break the world record fee that Real Madrid paid Tottenham for Gareth Bale, reportedly around the £85m which previously surpassed the fee Madrid paid for Cristiano Ronaldo. There are only a certain amount of clubs who could afford such transfer fee; Madrid being one of them. Barcelona would never sell to their biggest rivals and it is highly unlikely that Messi would entertain a move to the Bernabeu either.

Paris St Germain

Both Ronaldo and Messi have been linked with PSG in the past following their takeover by Qatar Sports Investments who become the majority shareholder of the club in 2011. This meant that the club become one of the richest clubs in the world and QSI oversaw a rapid overhaul of the current PSG squad. Big-name signings such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani joined the club which was followed up by Angel Di Maria who joined from Manchester United for £45m in the summer.

PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi believes that it is ‘realistic’ that the French league champions could one day sign Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Parisians have made the Champions League their top priority as no team are a match for Laurent Blanc’s side in Ligue 1. Last year, the club were fined £49m for breaching Financial Fair-Play rules, however these regulations have only been loosely enforced meaning a world-transfer record is still possible.

Swedish striker Ibrahimovic remains PSG’s top dog. But questions marks surround his future as some believe the former Barcelona striker is ready for a new challenge. Barcelona confirmed that they rejected a transfer enquiry from PSG which was swiftly rejected as was Barca’s approach for Marco Verratti.

Signing Messi would be a huge signal of intent for PSG and would probably deliver them their first Champions League title if they could pull a deal off. However, it seems unlikely that despite their riches, Messi would entertain playing in a division of much lower quality in France.

Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United

The TV right deals in Germany, Spain and France totalled just over £500m. The Premier League TV rights deal totalled over £5bn. This shows the huge gap in finances between the leagues. Barcelona have admitted they can no longer offer the wages that the Premier League can offer. The summer transfer window saw teams such as Newcastle and West Brom spend funds they would not have had access to without the deal. Yet topping the transfer spends yet again were Manchester City.

City moved swiftly to bolster their squad following a year of dominance by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. Squad players such as Edin Dzeko, Steven Jovetic and Micah Richards were moved out of the club and replaced with £50m signings of Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne. Nicolas Otamendi and Fabian Delph also arrived which totalled City’s spending at £154m. Messi also has relationships with both Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta from his time with Argentina and will also know Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano after they swapped Barcelona for City.

City up there with the richest clubs in the world, combined with the money from TV, means a move for Messi is no longer unachievable. The Argentine has a reported buy-out clause of around £174.2m and the Citizens would be able to make Messi the best paid player in the world and improve his Barcelona contract significantly.

Chelsea have also sounded out Barcelona regarding a move for Messi following their poor start to the season. Reports suggest that Roman Abramovich could be lining up a move for the Argentine to return the Blues to the summit of the Premier League and help in their quest for another Champions League title. Messi has a good relationship with Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas who would no doubt endorse a move to London.

Germany sports manufacturers, Adidas are also likely to play a part in any deal involving Manchester United or Chelsea. It is no secret that Adidas would rather see their main athlete playing in the three stripes every week rather than the Barcelona shirt currently made by main rivals Nike. Brands in the past have previously offered to pay chunks of a transfer fee which will be paid back through funds generated from shirt sales and the commercial impact of the signing.

Ultimately, there is more money in England yet Messi hasn’t shown he is motivated by money. He loves Barcelona, yet the offer of a wage hike is not to be ignored. Well respected Spanish journalist, Guillem Balague, recently interviewed Messi who said ‘he lives in the moment’. Will the moment come where he decides he wants a new challenge? Balague said that the four clubs have announced their interest, which doesn’t mean Messi is going to leave, but he is listening. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were willing to leave Spain for the Premier League as was Bastian Schweinsteiger who left Bayern Munich for a re-union with Louis Van Gaal and Messi will surely be tempted by the riches of England.

It remains to be seen whether Messi can be prised away from Barcelona, who will not let him leave without a fight or whether the Argentine actually would want to leave the club. One thing is for certain, a move which was once considered impossible is now very much a reality.

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