It is increasingly clear that Lionel Messi’s future at Barcelona has never been in so much doubt. And, if reports are to be believed, Chelsea are making it known that, should the four-time world player decide the time has come to cut his ties with the Catalan club, they are willing to put up an unprecedented financial package bring him to Stamford Bridge.
The crisis at Barcelona and thus with Messi has been brewing for some time. A club lacking direction on and off the pitch and embroiled in multiple scandals has gone from dominating Europe to not winning a trophy last season and not looking likely to win one this. Matters came to a head on Sunday when coach Luis Enrique, with whom Messi’s relationship is thought to have become increasingly fractious, left Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer on the bench for a 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad.
The following day Messi missed an open training session, offering a reason that did little to quell the speculation that he was far from happy. Within 48 hours sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta was sacked, fellow club legend Carles Puyol resigned from the position as his assistant and president Josep Maria Bartomeu had called for early presidential elections for this summer. There is considerable doubt that Luis Enrique will even make it that long.
And there is widespread talk, too, that Messi is also weighing up his future. Speaking at a press conference to announce the elections on Wednesday, Bartomeu was forced to quell rumors over Messi’s exit.
"Messi has a contract until 2018, he is happy with the club and wants to win more titles,” he said, reports BBC Sport. “There is nothing to panic about in that regard. Messi is the central figure. The team is built around him. The whole footballing world knows that Barca don't want to sell Messi. For me he is the best player in the world.”
Given events at the club, it is not hard to see why, even given his association with Barcelona since the age of 13, Messi would at least be considering that his future could be best served elsewhere. Right now, Chelsea, looking strong contenders for both the Premier League and Champions League titles and offering the chance to live in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, London, must look as good a proposition as any. Chelsea can also offer the opportunity to link up again with his good friend Cesc Fabregas, who has adapted seamlessly to life at Stamford Bridge, despite the doubts about how a player so entrenched with the Barcelona style would adapt to playing under former Real Madrid manager and ultimate pragmatist Jose Mourinho.
On Thursday, the Daily Star made the bold claim that Messi has been made aware that Chelsea are willing to meet Messi’s hefty 250 million euros (£196 million) release clause and satisfy the wage demands for a man whose latest contract made him the world’s highest-paid player at a reported 20 million euros (£15.7 million) after tax.
Roman Abramovich has scaled back his initial lavish spending on Chelsea in recent years, with the club putting an emphasis on signing young players like Eden Hazard and Oscar. Yet, the Russian billionaire would surely be tempted to make an exception for arguably the greatest player of his generation. Instead, the main issue could well be whether Chelsea could make the deal work and remain within Financial Fair Play rules. Yet, yhat will be an even tougher hurdle to overcome for Messi’s other suitors, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, both of whom fell foul of the rules last season.
Still, the likelihood surely remains that Messi remains where he is, at least through the summer. Especially with Barcelona banned from signing players throughout 2015, no presidential candidate can succeed having the club’s idol leave on their watch. Conducting a “hostile” transfer through paying up a player’s release clause is far from a straightforward proposition. And, with a new coach and president a distinct possibility in the summer, Messi may be inclined to stick around and see if a club that won three Champions League titles in six seasons can get itself back in order and provide the 27-year-old with more medals for his collection.