Could the six-time Ballon d’Or winner be on his way out of Catalunya? Goal takes a look at what has fuelled departure talk
Lionel Messi has spent his entire professional career at Barcelona, having joined the club as a 14-year-old, and the Argentine’s glorious exploits have seen him become an honorary Catalan.
He has helped the club to 10 league titles and four Champions Leagues, scooping a record six Ballons d’Or for his personal contributions along the way.
His love for Barcelona is clear in his near lifelong commitment to the Spanish giants, but speculation persists nevertheless that La Pulga will ultimately join another club before he hangs up his boots for good.
Is Lionel Messi going to leave Barcelona? Transfer Saga Explained
Messi does not want to leave Barcelona, but the Argentina international has spoken in the past of potentially joining another club.
Barca president Josep Bartomeu insists that the club will “enjoy [Messi] for much longer” after stressing that their star player is not interested in a departure.
“I am not going to give details but Messi has said many times that he will end his football life in Barcelona,” Bartomeu said.
He added: “Messi wants to continue and wants to end [his career] here. He has many years left and we are going to enjoy him for much longer.”
Why is there speculation about a Lionel Messi Barcelona exit?
Transfer speculation is very much part of football and Messi’s status as arguably the best player in the world has long marked him out at a desirable recruit for a host of top clubs.
As such, he is periodically linked with other clubs, though in most cases the speculation is simply not credible.
The rumour mill was cranked into action on this occasion after Cadena SER reported that the 33-year-old was ready to bring down the curtain on his illustrious Barcelona career, with his contract expiring in 2021.
With the clocking ticking, a contributing factor in the speculation was the suggestion that contract talks between the club and Messi had been put on hold.
It’s understood that these issues – the reticence about signing a new deal and a possible exit – are related to Messi’s reported dissatisfaction with off-field, internal machinations at the club.
The first major example of this bubbling discontent came in February, when the captain publicly hit back at Barca technical secretary Eric Abidal over his criticisms of the players.
“Those in charge of sporting direction should also face up to their responsibilities and above all take charge of their own decisions,” shot the Argentine in a caustic Instagram post.
Then, when confirming the players’ 70 per cent pay cut during the coronavirus lockdown, Messi directed a barb at figures within the club “who tried to put us under pressure to do something we always knew we would do.”
Having kept his own counsel on internal political issues within the club over the years, Messi’s recent outspokenness indicates that he is now willing to exert his influence.
Indeed, it has been suggested that the contract impasse could potentially precipitate a premature end to Bartomeu’s presidency, with club elections set to take place in June 2021.
Which clubs could Lionel Messi sign for?
Given his status as one of the best footballers who has ever lived, Messi would have no shortage of options if he ever did decide to leave Barcelona.
He has notably been touted for a reunion with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City in the past and the Premier League club are certainly among the few who would be well placed to afford him.
Those links have been made again in light of recent rumblings, but Guardiola played down the suggestion that Messi could soon grace the Etihad Stadium, expressing a wish for the Argentine to remain at Barca.
A return to Argentina is a very credible possibility, with his compatriot and friend Javier Mascherano emphasising that “anything could happen”.
Mascherano himself returned home in 2020 to join Estudiantes and club chairman Juan Sebastian Veron joked that the No. 10 would be reserved for Messi if he wanted to sign for them.
“If you want to come here [Estudiantes], you have the ’10’ ensured,” said Veron.
“Beyond that, I don’t really imagine him outside Barcelona, but these are things that we say today and tomorrow we see him out there going to another club.
“The reality is that he is the only one who has the decision and desire; no one else knows.”
As well as Estudiantes, Messi’s boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys would surely be in the equation should he consider a return to his native land, while the likes of Boca Juniors and River Plate could possibly appeal.
Former Barcelona star Rivaldo has spoken of the financial incentive for all involved if Messi were to link up with his eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus, though such an eventuality seems highly unlikely.
“With all this speculation, I believe that some agents are already dreaming about a Messi-Ronaldo double at Juventus and how big it will be around the globe,” Rivaldo said.
“If that happened there would be a world ‘boom’, and I believe Juventus would quickly recover any investment on the Argentinian thanks to the boost they would get from visibility and marketing.
“It would be historical to see both playing together and I’m sure many Juve sponsors would love to help financially, so, it’s also a possibility for Messi.”
While a dream team with Ronaldo at Juventus may be beyond contemplation for the Bianconeri, one Italian club that have been heavily linked are Inter.
Having previously gone “all out” to lure the Argentine to San Siro in 2008, recent speculation prompted the head of Pirelli – Inter’s chief shirt sponsor – to hint that his company could help finance a move.
The idea of Pirelli making a contribution has precedent in Fiat’s assistance to Juve when Ronaldo joined from Real Madrid in 2018.
Old Trafford is another rumoured destination, with reports in Argentina suggesting Manchester United were readying a €120 million (£108m/$136m) part-exchange offer.
In truth, any club in the world would be keen to sign Messi, such is his status, but in the event that he does leave, whoever does sign him will need deep pockets.