Messi Wants Out
Lionel Messi has told FC Barcelona, the club he's called home since joining its youth system in 2001, that he wants to leave, according to multiple reports.
After 10 La Liga championships, four Champions League titles, six Ballon d'Or awards and a laundry list of other trophies and accolades, the 33-year-old Argentine superstar looks set for a new chapter.
The news is shocking, and while there are still several outside factors involved in the situation — including clauses in Messi's contract — it brings up a number of questions.
Let's delve into some of those larger questions, with FOX Soccer analyst Alexi Lalas providing some insight.
Only Messi can say for sure, but an 8-2 humiliation in the Champions League quarterfinals at the hands of Bayern Munic couldn't have helped, nor did Barcelona going trophy-less for the first time since 2007-08. There are other factors to consider, too, including Barcelona failing to find an adequate replacement after Neymar left in 2017.
Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele cost a combined €371 million ($439 million) and none started Barcelona's Champions League semifinal against Bayern. In fact, Coutinho, on loan at Bayern, scored twice against his parent club in the match. It all points to a growing divide between Messi and Barcelona's leadership.
There's also the timing on Messi's contract to consider. His release clause of €700 million ($828 million) is prohibitive, but there's a stipulation that allows him to leave for free at the end of every season.
Sky Sports' Dharmesh Sheth broke down the standoff between club and player:
Alexi's thoughts: "If this ends up being the ultimate power play from Messi and results in leadership changes to appease him and create a new environment at Barca that he feels more comfortable in, it will only serve to show how important and powerful Messi is and continues to be for Barca, La Liga and Spanish football."
Where would he go?
As one of the best players in the world, and arguably the greatest of all-time, Messi fetches a handsome salary of over $60 million per year. And that's not even taking bonuses and other payments into account. Similar to his release clause being prohibitive, his salary alone is a roadblock for many clubs across Europe.
If he does leave Barcelona, Manchester City and former manager Pep Guardiola seem like an ideal fit. Money is of little object to the Sheikh-backed Citizens, and Messi enjoyed a great run under Guardiola from 2008-12. A new report on Wednesday suggests City has a long-term plan for Messi that could see him eventually wind up in the United States, but more on that later.
A reunion with Neymar at Paris St. Germain could be in the cards if finances work out. One interesting prospect would be a move to Inter Milan, where Messi could square off against archrival Cristiano Ronaldo in Italy's Serie A.
Alexi's thoughts: "I never thought I would see Messi at any other club. But if this happens, it will be a move of global significance and relevance. Unlike Cristiano, Zlatan, Neymar etc., we have never had that iconic 'new club' memento with Messi. The airport arrival, the physical, the presentation to the supporters and the holding up of the jersey. All of these moments will take on mythical levels of historical importance."
What about Major League Soccer?
Again, Messi isn't coming cheap, even if the €700 million release clause isn't in play. Even an 80 percent pay cut from his current annual $60-plus million haul wouldn't put him close to the $7.2 million the LA Galaxy paid Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2019. However, as David Beckham can attest, MLS has done some crafty financial maneuvering in the past to stun the world.
Here's where Manchester City, which is owned by holding company City Football Group, also comes into picture. City Football Group is also the majority shareholder in New York City FC, and ESPN reports that Man City's Messi offer could include a provision that sees the superstar move from the Premier League to NYCFC after three years.
Alexi's thoughts: "If he were to go to MLS, it would have to be a more benevolent approach. His incredible salary right now is not something that MLS is prepared to match, so there would have to be a more Beckham-esque type of branding and experiential component. Also, it’s important to note that Messi has built his brand almost entirely on his play. He is not a big personality, he is not provocative and he is not a marketing phenomenon. He also doesn’t speak English."
What are the risks?
Messi has been at Barcelona his entire professional career and came up through their academy beginning in 2001. There's a comfort level there that can't be matched elsewhere, plus there's the allure of being a "one-club" player if he finishes out his career at Barcelona.
Considering there's no chance he joins Real Madrid, and the other La Liga clubs would be hard-pressed to afford him, a move for Messi means a new league, country and culture.
Alexi's thoughts: "Messi has grown up, lived and thrived in the Barca cocoon. It has nurtured, protected and rewarded him. It is all he knows. But, as the song goes: 'Oh baby baby it's a wild world', and the grass isn’t always greener ... If he were to go someplace in Europe, it is limiting. Almost every team is a step down. Outside of the Barca cocoon he would have to adjust, as would his family. Ask Angel Di Maria how his time was in England."