Is Lionel Messi Finally Set to Leave Barcelona This Summer?

Signs suggest the end of an era could be approaching.

Sports
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After publicly expressing his desire to leave — and swiftly commiting to staying — last summer, Lionel Messi could now be approaching his final days at Barcelona. In a little over a week, the Argentinian’s contract at the club will expire, potentially bringing to an end a relationship that began when Messi was just 13.

This summer’s contract stand-off has reached a head while Messi is playing for his country at Copa America, a tournament not scheduled to end until July 10. The last time he discussed his future plans was back in December 2020, in an interview with journalist Jordi Èvole that was described as “the most personal” of his career. In that interview, Messi acknowledged the difficulties at Barcelona and hinted that his future could lie elsewhere, while also declaring that “we’ll see what happens in June.”

Key moments in that conversation saw Messi discuss his previous attempt to leave the club last summer, which resulted in a now-famous burofax being submitted to the club. “It was far from easy for me to say I wanted to leave the club and the city… the family wanted to stay here, this is their home but I genuinely felt it was time to go,” Messi told Èvole. “I felt I’d completed a cycle and it was time to leave the club that had given me so much. I wanted to win titles and battle for the Champions League, and felt it was time for a change.”

“I felt I’d completed a cycle and it was time to leave the club that had given me so much. I felt it was time for a change.”

The major issue in conversations around Messi’s future is his current deal at Barcelona. The huge contract is widely reported to be worth over €100 million EUR (approximately $119 million USD) per year, making it financially difficult both for Barcelona to renew, and for other clubs to offer a similar package. The Catalan club’s financial difficulties are widely reported, and the recently-elected Barcelona president Joan Laporta has said that any offer would only be “within the club’s possibilities.” Other figures at the club have discussed other incentives for Messi, including a statue outside the Nou Camp stadium reflecting his achievements.

Currently, Barcelona are still desperate to keep hold of the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, who is more than 400 goals clear of his nearest rival for the club’s record goalscorer. Earlier this week, Spanish newspaper AS reported that contract renewal talks were “on course” despite offers that would almost treble Messi’s salary. It has also often been claimed that Messi is more concerned with Barcelona’s decline in stature and performance than his salary, and Laporta has a plan to reverse that. Following on from an already-busy start to the transfer window, the president is apparently planning an even bigger incentive to keep Messi on side.

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Aitor Alcalde Colomer/Getty Images

After more than a decade of competing with Cristiano Ronaldo to be the world’s best player — and, arguably, the best player ever — Laporta wants to unite the pair at Barcelona, according to the same AS reports. Despite playing almost 438 times (and scoring 450 goals) for Barcelona’s arch rivals, Real Madrid, the club is believed to be preparing a huge deal that could see the Portugal captain join on loan from Juventus, with two players heading the other way.

When he looked to be on his way out at the end of last season, the only two credible suitors were Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. The two clubs, amongst the richest and happy-to-spend in Europe, both represented a reunion for Messi, giving him the chance to play under his former coach and mentor Pep Guardiola at City and the opportunity to link up with his previous teammate Neymar Jr. in Paris, two years after urging Barcelona to resign the Brazilian.

This summer, it seems unlikely that Messi will sign for Manchester City, who recently made an opening offer worth “at least” £100 million GBP (approximately $139 million USD) to sign Harry Kane. PSG, on the other hand, were reported to have offered Messi an “unbeatable” contract, that would run for an initial two years, by which time Messi will be 36. Earlier this month, PSG’s president Nasser Al-Khaleifi hinted at a deal for the player, telling L’Equipe, “Messi is at the end of his contract, and all clubs have the right to talk to him and recruit him for next season.”

Should Messi decide the time is right to leave Barcelona, and an appropriate offer from PSG is not forthcoming, there is one further possibility. In his interview with Èvole, Messi pointed to one other destination, saying, “I would like to play in the United States and experience life and the league there.” Even if he does leave, however, it won’t be forever. “But ultimately [I would like to] come back to Barcelona in some capacity,” he continued in December. “I’m not thinking too far ahead in the short term and just want to see how the season finishes.”

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