Are Manchester City Really at the ‘Front of the Queue’ for Lionel Messi?

?Things are a bit of a mess at Barcelona at the moment.

Patience with Ernesto Valverde’s style came to an end after he left them (checks notes) two La Liga titles up and top of the table, with the club overly reliant on the chasm-covering brilliance of Lionel Messi.

Long-term injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembélé have heaped even more responsibility on the Ballon d’Or holder to do everything but sell hot dogs and do museum tours at Camp Nou. Meanwhile, new manager Quique Setién is struggling to right the ship, just as Real Madrid hit form.

After an infuriatingly fruitless January window, sporting director Eric Abidal made the near-fatal error of daring to criticise the players and their performance under the now dismissed Valverde in a posterior-shielding interview with SPORT – comments to which Messi took exception.

The Argentina superstar hit back on Instagram telling Abidal to basically ‘come say that to my face, yeah’.

After crisis talks, ?Abidal is keeping his job for now but there’s trouble brewing at ?Barcelona. Some have even suggested that a disgruntled Messi might up sticks and leave, pointing to a clause in his contract that allows him to quit the club at the end of any given season as he chooses – the same luxury that was afforded to Andrés Iniesta.

?Manchester Evening News write on Thursday that Manchester City ‘believe that they will be first choice’, if Messi uses the nuclear option and decides to leave ‘Chaos FC’, as the Spanish media have dubbed Barça.

The report claims that City recruitment heads Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain ‘will have been sitting up in their seats’ with the news of the cold war in Catalonia.

Josep Guardiola,Txiki Begiristain

The reasons the MEN give for City being at ‘front of the queue’, as they put it, is Messi’s long-standing relationship with Begiristain and Soriano, as well as the presence of Pep Guardiola and his ‘closest friend in football’ Sergio Aguero.

It certainly sounds exciting but how plausible is it?

Messi does have a clause in his contract (which expires in 2021) which allows him to leave at the end of each season for nothing. 

Commenting on the clause last year, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said: “Messi signed until 2021. It was agreed that at the end of the penultimate season he is at liberty to leave for free.

“He has earned that freedom to decide his future, but he is very Cule and I am calm. Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol had the same clause.

“We couldn’t give Messi a different clause, but I repeat, I am in no doubt he will stay for many years.”

?The Standard say that the club have been in talks about extending Messi’s deal and remain ‘confident’ of keeping him at Camp Nou – regardless of contractual fine print.

Lionel Messi

Importantly, previous reports have also suggested that the clause also only applies to ?’non-elite’ clubs – although how enforceable that even would be is unknown. The same way Iniesta was allowed to join Vissel Kobe or Xavi to Al-Sadd, the clause is likely to be intended to allow the 32-year-old Argentine to seek a new challenge and wind down his career with a club considered a non-direct competitor to Barcelona. It is often suggested, for example, that Messi could spend his final seasons with Newell’s Old Boys in his homeland. 

Jumping ship to Man City without a transfer fee, however, would put the Neymar debacle in the shade (and then some), with Barça likely fighting the move every step of the way.

There is also the small matter of costs.

Everyone should know by now that free transfer never actually means free. As highlighted by journalist Kristof Terreur, himself citing Football Leaks, Messi currently gets around €60m a year in basic wages (roughly double Alexis Sanchez’s United deal, three Mesut Ozil’s or eight Virgil van Dijk’s), plus more in add-ons, image rights and the rest. 

Then there’s signing-on bonuses, agents, loyalty etc etc to consider. It’s a huge money deal. A gargantuan, FFP-bothering deal.

Messi may have lost his temper after months (and years) of frustrating decline, powered by poor planning and recruitment at Barça but he has said repeatedly he wants to retire at Camp Nou – the place he’s been since he was 13. ?ESPN claims there have already been ‘clear-the-air talks’ between the star and Abidal.

The thing is, he wants, needs, to end his career with more Champions League winner’s medals after five years of failure.

Expect then a big, era-defining summer (*cough Neymar cough*) to appease Messi – the man they can afford to lose, as much as anyone can afford to take him away.