Could Man City really sign Messi... for free?



Posted Friday, February 07, 2020 by Goal.com

Could Man City really sign Messi... for free?

The Barcelona star's row with Eric Abidal, combined with a clause in his contract, has sparked rumours of fresh interest from the English champions

Manchester City have taken the best of Barcelona to help them build a Premier League club that has established itself in the elite of world football.

Chief executive Ferran Soriano joined in 2012 and painstakingly constructed the brand off the pitch, creating the City Football Group and a portfolio of top clubs around the world. Txiki Begiristain, one of the savviest directors of football in the game, soon followed and in 2016 they finally secured football’s most wanted coach in Pep Guardiola.

One big Barca personality who has so far escaped their grasp is Lionel Messi, a player regularly linked to the Etihad Stadium but who has been happy to remain at Camp Nou.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner has occasionally flirted with the idea of leaving Barca, such as in 2014 when he and his father were charged with tax fraud. But an exit has never been a realistic proposition and City have never seriously attempted to sign him from the Spanish champions, knowing that he has a unique relationship with the club.

"The natural thing is that Messi ends his sporting career with Barcelona, but if one day he calls us, we'll pick up the phone and we'll immediately open the door [to him]," Soriano said in 2016. "But no, we will not call him.”

But the recent fallout with sporting director Eric Abidal has once again brought about the possibility of Messi quitting La Liga with City firmly at the front of the queue should that happen. A public row between the former team-mates has left the club sweating on Messi’s long-term status with reports that the Argentinian is fed up of being used as a political pawn.

Guardiola has made no secret that he still regards the 32-year-old as the best player in the world and the best he has ever worked with. Only last month when Sergio Aguero became the greatest Premier League goalscorer born outside the UK, the City boss was asked if he was the best striker he has worked with. "The best is Messi," Guardiola shot back. “Messi is [the best] number nine, number 10, number 11, number seven, number six, number five, number four…”.

The pair spent four years together at Barca as coach and player, winning four La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, the Copa del Rey twice, two European Super Cups, two Club World Cups and three Spanish Super Cups.

The City boss has never since given serious consideration to working with Messi once again, as much as he would like to. “He would be good in the Premier League but I think Barcelona is the right place to finish his career,” he said in 2017, when it was last suggested he could move to England with a contract extension still unsigned.

Messi did end up signing that deal, which nonetheless has a clause in that means he can leave for nothing at the end of the season. The only request is that he alerts the club of his plans before the end of May.

While the lack of a transfer fee would be incredible for the world’s best footballer, there is no way that Messi would come on the cheap. His current contract is reportedly worth a net £500,000 (€565,000) per week while he could expect a massive signing-on bonus. Despite the mammoth costs, the marketing benefits for City could be huge and would help push them onto another level for negotiating sponsorship deals.

And the benefits on the pitch would be clear. While Messi turns 33 in June he is a long way from winding down his career after collecting a record sixth Ballon d’Or in December.

But there is so far no suggestion from City that they will make any move. For all the praise of his former prodigy, Guardiola doesn’t want to be seen to desperately need the forward in order to win the third Champions League that has eluded him since he left Barca in 2012. And City have moved on from the days when they would throw money at a situation to try to get their way, particularly with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play investigation rumbling on.

Sources close to the Spanish club insist Messi’s only concern is that he remains part of a Barca side capable of challenging for the Champions League and La Liga. While that remains the case, City are aware that their dream signing will remain a dream.



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