ROSARIO, Argentina (Reuters) - Lionel Messi has never made a secret of his desire to play for home town club Newell’s Old Boys but his decision to leave Barcelona has not prompted dancing in the streets of Rosario just yet.
Officials and fans of the club believe Messi will one day pull on their distinctive half red, half blue shirt but they are aware that at the age of 33, Messi probably has a few more years in Europe before heading home for a romantic swansong.
"As a Newell’s fan I want him to come here but we know it’s impossible," Daniel Valvi, a 65-year old retiree, told reporters in Rosario, a city of 1.5 million people 300km north-west of Buenos Aires.
"If he does come he’ll come in four years or so when he’s almost done so he can say, I’m playing a few games for Newell’s and then I’m retiring."
Messi announced he wanted to leave Barcelona on Tuesday after spending his entire career at the Catalan club.
The decision sparked a furore as the internet erupted with debate over where he might go.
News reports in Argentina and Spain said the six-times world player of the year wished to head for Manchester City and rejoin Pep Guardiola, his coach at Barcelona during a gloriously successful spell.
Other reports said Inter Milan, Juventus or Paris St Germain might be willing to break the bank to lure one of the best players of all time.
Newell’s fans, though, are waiting, confident their hero’s appearance is a question not of now but of when.
"We don’t have to make any call," Juan José Concina, Newell’s secretary general told a local radio station in Rosario this week.
"No one knows more clearly than he does that Newell’s wants him to come here. And that is not dependent on a phone call. We have to be cool about it.
"It’s not just about Newell’s, his arrival here is good not just for our institution but for Argentine football as a whole. That’s why I agree that it’s a question of state, because it would be a real boost for the game in Argentina."
(Reporting by Miguel Lobianco, additional reporting by Ramiro Scandolo; writing by Andrew Downie, editing by Ed Osmond)