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Barcelona have announced that Lionel Messi, the greatest player in their history and perhaps the best player of all time, will be leaving the club because of “financial and structural obstacles”.
The club’s brief statement has triggered one of the most explosive stories in the world of sport and has given a golden opportunity to a small collection of teams who might be able to sign Messi as a free agent.
Here, Telegraph Sport analyses which clubs might have a strong enough financial, or indeed emotional, pull to sign the 34-year-old. So, where could Messi go next?
City were hoping to sign Messi last season and certainly have the financial firepower to meet his wage demands. In Pep Guardiola they also have the manager who helped turn Messi into one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.
The style of football under Guardiola would also suit Messi, especially as he comes into his mid-30s, and he could be attracted by the thought of sampling the Premier League before he ends his career.
If City were to sign Messi, it would surely mark the end of their pursuit of England captain Harry Kane. The Tottenham Hotspur striker is hoping to force through a move to City and did not return for pre-season training as scheduled this week.
Some bookmakers instantly made PSG the favourites to sign Messi and it is easy to see why: the lifestyle in Paris, the financial strength of the club, the connection to many of the players within the first-team squad.
A move to Paris would give Messi a chance to finally reunite with Neymar, his former Barcelona team-mate, and he would no doubt be welcomed by the strong South American contingent in the dressing room.
As well as Neymar, PSG’s squad features Argentines Angel Di Maria, Leandro Paredes and Mauro Icardi. The manager, Mauricio Pochettino, is, of course, another Argentine.
For PSG, the signing of Messi would represent another enormous step towards creating perhaps the most formidable commercial brand in football. For Messi himself, it would mean a chance to link up with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in one of Europe’s most exciting attacks. One assumes that PSG would instantly become favourites to lift the Champions League.
Sources at the French club suggest, though, that his wage demands would make him too expensive for them as it stands.
Stay at Barcelona
Haven’t we been here before? It is not even 12 months since Messi handed in a transfer request in Spain, saying he wanted to leave the club. Only a few days later, he announced that he had changed his mind and that he would not be leaving after all.
It is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that Messi does indeed remain at the club this summer, despite the clarity of Barcelona’s statement.
Is it a coincidence that this development comes just days after La Liga agreed a deal to sell 10 per cent of its commercial business to a private equity firm? According to Spanish reports, the move is opposed by both Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The statement regarding Messi’s future could, therefore, be construed as an attempt to put pressure on La Liga, who will be well aware of the importance of Messi to the strength of the league.
Newell’s Old Boys
Messi has previously said he would like to play for Newell’s Old Boys, the boyhood club he joined at the age of six. “I always said I wanted to play in Argentine football one day, I don’t know if it will happen but I have it in my mind,” he said in 2018.
“It would be at Newell’s, nowhere else. I would like to do that for at least six months, but you never know what will happen.”
Such a move would, of course, require Messi to accept significantly reduced wages. It would also show that, at the age of 34, he believes his time at the top level of European football has come to an end.
An MLS club
There can be no doubting the appeal to Messi of playing his final few years in the United States. The lifestyle and the burgeoning league has certainly attracted plenty of Messi’s contemporaries, including former Argentina team-mate Gonzalo Higuain, who now represents Inter Miami. Messi spent some of his holiday in Miami earlier this summer and is reported to own properties in the area.