2020 really is the year when the world broke down. From Liverpool winning the Premier League after 30 years to a pandemic stopping everything, it has been a truly sui generis year. And it might get ever suier generiser (forgive my Latin, mea culpa) after news emerged that Lionel Messi had informed Barcelona that he wanted to leave and leave for free!
Football’s Beatles break-up moment is finally here.
Messi wanting to leave Barcelona is almost unimaginable as he has been with the club for 20 years. Leave the club that gave him growth hormones and made him the greatest footballer of all time? It was the footballing equivalent of news emerging that a coronavirus vaccine had been found or that William Shakespeare was originally French, or Bal Narendra was a hardcore Congress supporter in his youth or that John Lennon secretly listened to rap music.
What will be revealed next?
That Cristiano Ronaldo secretly eats sugar? Or that Novak Djokovic funds vaccine studies? Maybe Rahul Gandhi is going to join Samajwadi Party? Biden stayed awake through a whole press conference. Or Donald Trump will be able to read a chart properly.
Messi’s prophesied departure opens a realm of so many possibilities that it’s almost impossible for simple multi-celled creatures like us to fathom the space-time reality. Messi has reportedly told new manager Ronald Koeman that he felt more out than in and sent a burofax to Barcelona informing them of his desire to leave.
A burofax is a formal letter in Spain. Lionel Messi has a €700m release clause which no club – with even the infinite wealth of petro-dollars – could match.
But here’s where it gets truly murky. Barcelona might suddenly grow a pair and decide to wrangle saying they will only leave him for his official price, the exit clause of 700 million euros. Barcelona believes that the deadline for Lionel Messi’s walkout for the free clause ended in May.
But this is where coronavirus stretched our reality and the length of the season. While Barcelona will – if they want to start the biggest battle since Lucifer led a bunch of angels against God’s army – argue that the clause ended in May, Messi’s camp will say that it should end with the season-ending, which was the Champions League final last Sunday.
So, where will Messi go?
PSG or Man City
When it comes to matching Messi’s ginormous wages, only two clubs have money to spare, even with the farce of Financial Fair Play.
Messi could become the ultimate prize to decide a local conflict that started in the 1800s which has become a gaudy sport washing mega battle.
For both PSG and Man City, the signing of Messi would be the true triumph of oil money over Western civilisation and one over the other.
Both have followed different approaches to the top, but the European prize remains their Holy Grail.
Guardiola has failed to even reach the finals while PSG was quietly stood off by a Bayern Munich team which looked unlikely to lose at all.
The smart money would be on Pep Guardiola given the duo’s emotional father-son connection. Guardiola, despite the infinite riches provided to him, has only managed to win the Champions League with Lionel Messi in the team. They are already in touch if reports are to believed. If Messi chose Man City, it will also help us answer the question of the oft-repeated phrase: “Can he do it on a cold night in Stoke?” PSG will also offer the same riches, and a reunion with his old pal Neymar, but frankly, what will Messi achieve playing in a French division where PSG barely has to struggle to win?
Chance of joining
Messi to Man City – 4/5
Messi to PSG – 3/5
It’s almost unthinkable, but Lionel Messi could switch to the other side, breaking a million Catalonian hearts in the process. It has been done before, most famously by Luis Figo whose departure from Barcelona to Real Madrid on a free transfer saw him being greeted with a pig’s head!
Messi has been watching solemnly as Real Madrid has wracked up prize after prize in Europe and perhaps joining the forbidden enemy could right that wrong. Real Madrid fans would certainly lap it up, considering it another win over the old enemy. However, Messi’s deep connection to his fans might mean that he won’t subject the Barcelona fans to the abject humiliation.
Chance of joining
Messi to Real Madrid - 2/5
United has been sick of the sight of Messi, he decimated them in two Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011 but the thought of him in a red shirt will surely make up for things.
Ed Woodward would probably get an aneurysm thinking of the balance sheet but then go wet thinking of the sponsor bump if Lionel Messi were to wear a red shirt.
Incidentally, Cristiano Ronaldo was set to return to United in 2013 but Ferguson’s retirement scuppered that.
If Messi were to join the Red Devils, he could show that he could also conquer England like his old foe Ronaldo and doing it on his stomping ground would be doubly sweet.
It would also be a match made in MBA heaven with the world’s most popular club getting the world’s most popular player. Interestingly, a Mail piece claimed that while Messi had contacted Guardiola, Manchester United had also started negotiating with the footballer’s agent.
There was a lot of heartburn when Tevez switched red for blue, but it’s unimaginable what the Welcome to Manchester posters will look like
Chance of joining
Messi to Man Utd – 3/5
A dark horse since Frank Lampard’s arrival, the original nouveau riche of English football, might well get back to their old ways for Lionel Messi. London might just be a more attractive destination for Messi than Manchester.
Interestingly, United legend Rio Ferdinand tweeted that Lampard was in for Lionel Messi and Roman Abramovich would even have Putin’s approval to sign Lionel Messi.
Chances of joining Chelsea 2/5
The received wisdom was that Italian clubs weren’t as attractive as it used to be but Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Juventus changed that in 2018. Juventus have won the last 9 Serie A titles and Messi’s arrival at Inter Milan could certainly see him go head-to-head with his bete noire at Juventus.
Simply from a tax perspective, Italy is far more accommodating than England and Spain, and Messi won’t even have to face the indignities of being hauled up in court. Messi’s arrival would also destroy the notion that Italian clubs preferred the Catenaccio to free-flowing attacking football.
Chinese billionaire Zhang Jindong, chairman of Sunning Commerce Group, acquired a 68.55% stake in the club in 2016, which would mean that funds would certainly be available if Messi wanted to come to Italy.
Chances of joining: 2/5
The other more unrealistic options are of course Juventus, where Messi could team up with Ronaldo but that looks highly unlikely. Germany is out of the question given the wage structures and FC Bayern – the only realistic option – looks like an unlikely destination.
Messi could make the emotional pilgrimage and return home to Newell’s Old Boys, his first club but that seems like a decision later in the day.
There’s of course Napoli, the club Maradona joined and helped to win the Serie A but one doubts Messi has the stomach for that sort of a battle.
There is also another option. Messi's move could be a gamble to force out the immensely unpopular Josep Maria Bartomeu who faces a vote of confidence from his rival Jordi Farre.
Whichever club Lionel Messi chooses, one can be sure that football is, to use a horrible pun, going to get terribly Messi!
The author is the Web Editor the Free Press Journal and tweets at @nirmalyadutta23. The views expressed are the author's own.