COMMENT: The Barcelona forward caused controversy this week as he hinted he may leave Camp Nou at some stage in the near future. Goal looks at the Argentine’s possible suitors
Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Lionel Messi has created a storm. The Argentine attacker hinted earlier this week that his future may not be at Barcelona after all, alluding to severe criticism and “difficult times” at the Catalan club. And as news spread of the forward’s frustrations at Camp Nou, Europe’s top teams were placed on red alert.
Key figures such as Messi’s father Jorge, Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu and team-mate Javier Mascherano have been quick to play down the possibility of the 27-year-old seeking a move elsewhere, but the player himself has given serious thought to a future away from Barca.
As things stand, it still looks likely Leo will smooth things over at the club where he has spent over half his life since joining as a tiny but talented 13-year-old in 2000.
Nevertheless, Europe’s elite will be watching with interest to see how the player’s situation develops. But how many clubs could afford to sign the Argentine anyway? Several sides in Asia, such as rich Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande, could probably meet Messi’s massive €250m release clause, but the Argentine would want to remain in Europe at this point in his career. So here, Goal takes a look at the possible suitors if the four-time Ballon d’Or winner did decide to leave Camp Nou behind…
Messi’s perfect partnership with Pep Guardiola brought the best out of both men, with 14 out of a possible 19 titles for the Catalan club between 2008 and 2012, as well as a host of records for the Argentine attacker and four consecutive Ballons d’Or.
Bayern have just paid off the Allianz Arena more than 15 years ahead of schedule and chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told the club’s magazine: “The revenues from the Allianz Arena can soon be invested in the team.”
That’s ominous news for everyone else, but Bayern’s head of finances Jan-Christian Dreesen told Sport Bild 10 days ago: “We won’t spend the amounts that clubs from southern Europe spend. We would rather invest in improving our collective strength than buying a megastar for €90 or €100 million.”
Messi (who would probably cost more than that anyway, albeit much less than his current clause) is an Adidas athlete and a deal could potentially be struck with the sports manufacturer helping the German club to finance a transfer. However, spending such sums is against Bayern’s principles in the transfer market and the Bundesliga champions would be unlikely to make a move – however much Guardiola would like to buy his former protege.
If you can’t beat them, join them! Messi has traditionally found life tough against Chelsea and was famously called a diver by Jose Mourinho following the sides’ Champions League clash at Stamford Bridge in early 2006.
The Argentine’s style of football is also a million miles from the defensive tactics shown on occasions by the Blues on their visits to Camp Nou.
Nevertheless, this is a very different Chelsea team and Mourinho managed to convince Barcelona and Arsenal fan Cesc Fabregas to join the club last summer. So why not Messi?
Less of a big-spending side in recent years, Chelsea’s income and the deep pockets of chairman Roman Abramovich mean a deal could be financed, while Messi’s close friendship with Cesc (the players’ partners are also very close and were together in London last week) could be another deciding factor. So perhaps the idea is less ludicrous than it first seems.
One of the reasons Messi is less content at Camp Nou right now is the absence of a great friend in the dressing room following the summer departures of best Barca buddies Jose Pinto and Cesc Fabregas.
At City, he would link up with compatriots Sergio Aguero, Martin Demichelis and Pablo Zabaleta. The latter is one of Messi’s best friends in football and the two have been close ever since they met at youth levels representing Argentina, while they also saw a lot of each other when the defender played in Barcelona for Espanyol.
City coach Manuel Pellegrini is a big admirer of Messi and the club would love to make a statement of intent by bringing in the four-time Ballon d’Or winner.
However, given their recent fine for infringing Financial Fair Play regulations, City would need to sell several star players or raise significant income in terms of sponsorship before a move for Messi would be possible.
Messi may have lost out to Cristiano Ronaldo in the popularity contest this week at Old Trafford, but that’s because the Portuguese is a former Manchester United favourite and the Argentine is remembered for denying the club the Champions League title in 2009 and 2011.
Those fans would quickly change their tune if the possibility of signing Messi arose, but right now United are not even in the Champions League and a loss of revenue from Europe’s premier club competition could hit them hard if they miss out on a top-four finish again this term under Louis van Gaal.
Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward believes the club – still one of the Europe’s richest despite escalating debts – are still in good shape. “There is the feeling at the club that we have the start of something special,” he said earlier this week.
However, United would need Champions League football to tempt Messi and also to pay for him. And with the club currently down in seventh place in the Premier League, there is no guarantee that will happen this season.
Paris Saint-Germain missed out on the summer signing of Angel Di Maria due to the Financial Fair Play regulations which saw the club fined €60 million by Uefa earlier this year.
Nevertheless, PSG officials did make contact with Messi’s camp earlier in 2014 to discuss an extraordinary move from Barcelona to Paris and the Argentine attacker contemplated a deal before deciding to stay with the Catalan club following a visit to his former coach Tito Vilanova.
Although it is unclear how PSG could fund a deal for Messi, the capital club could be tempted to part company with several of their star names if it meant they could bring in the Barcelona forward.
The club’s current icon, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, may look to leave if PSG move for Messi. The two men enjoyed a positive relationship at Camp Nou, but Messi’s move to a central role ultimately spelt the end for the Swedish striker at Camp Nou.
Asked if he would consider signing Messi from fierce rivals Barcelona, Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said on Friday: “There is always space for quality players in my team.”
Madrid could certainly afford to buy the Argentine in a deal which would eclipse in controversy even the move for Barca winger Luis Figo back in 2000.
President Florentino Perez would love to produce a repeat of that transfer and poach Barca’s biggest star, but knows that current club icon Cristiano Ronaldo would not take well to a possible move for Messi.
And in any case, the Argentine would not contemplate turning out for another team in Spain after spending the last 14 years of his life at the Catalan club – least of all the side’s eternal enemy.
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