The Argentine clearly loves the club, the city and its people but it’s likely that his determination to leave has only strengthened in recent months
Barcelona got a glimpse of a future without Lionel Messi on Tuesday night. It wasn’t all that grim.
However, there was a reason why coach Ronald Koeman felt he could rest not only Messi but several first-team regulars: Barca were going up against a side with one win in their 11 previous tournament outings.
The Catalans faced a true test of their quality against Atletico Madrid last weekend and failed it miserably, losing 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano.
It was the first time they had been beaten in La Liga by the Rojiblancos since 2010 but it wasn’t just the result which was unusual.
Messi was uncharacteristically quiet. At best, he looked lost. At worst, utterly disinterested. He didn’t even speak to the press afterwards, with it falling on poor Pedri to face the cameras immediately after the full-time whistle.
So, what chance is there of Messi deciding to extend a contract that expires next summer? He told Goal that he wanted to leave Barcelona during the summer because he was disillusioned with the way the club was being run.
Plenty has now changed in the intervening months, with president Josep Maria Bartomeu forced to resign, but have recent events boosted Barca’s hopes of holding on to their best player – or diminished them?
Below, we run through the factors likely to determine Messi’s next move…
Guardiola’s new Man City contract
Pep Guardiola’s decision to extend his stay at Manchester City surprised many in Barcelona.
After all, when the Catalan quit Camp Nou in 2012, he explained, “The main reason I have taken this decision is because four years is many years. I have given everything and I have nothing left. I need to recharge my batteries.”
True to his word, Guardiola promptly took a year off before spending three seasons at Bayern Munich between 2013 and 2016. It was thought that he would spend a similar period of time at City.
However, he has now committed to a seven-year stay at the Etihad, which is bad news for Barca, for two reasons.
Firstly, there was mounting hope that Guardiola could be persuaded to return to Camp Nou next summer, either as coach or as part of a new project with former charge Xavi on the bench.
Secondly, Guardiola’s decision to remain at City greatly increases the Premier League club’s chances of signing Messi.
After penning his two-year extension, Guardiola once again stated his desire to see the Argentine finish his career at Barca. However, he tellingly refused to rule out a reunion should Messi still want to “look for new goals and new challenges” elsewhere.
“Leo finishes this year his contract and I don’t know what’s going to happen in his mind,” the City boss told reporters. “Right now, he is a Barcelona player and the transfer market will be in June and July.”
It’s quite clear that City would not pass up an opportunity to reunite the pair, even if the 33-year-old Messi is no longer as dynamic a player as he was during Guardiola’s time in charge in Catalunya.
There would be obvious tactical issues to resolve, given Messi’s propensity for walking through games before exploding into life, while the attacker’s enormous wage demands could also prove problematic.
The whole operation, though, is now a whole lot more attractive for City given there would be no transfer fee involved if Messi decides to walk away at the end of the season.
Barcelona’s dire financial problems
Losing the best player in the world for nothing would obviously be a hammer blow for Barca, particularly given their desperate financial situation. They need all the money they can get right now. Still, Messi’s departure would, at least, go some way towards lowering their wage bill.
Barca need to save an estimated €190 million (£170m/$225m) in salaries by the end of the season to meet La Liga’s budgetary requirements – in reality, this needs to be done sooner to avoid exacerbating the problem – and their No.10 is currently earning an estimated €565,000 (£500k/$610k) a week.
Given Messi is unlikely to accept a massive pay cut in his next contract, retaining the services of the biggest earner in world football could hardly be considered an attractive proposition for the next president, who will need to drastically reduce expenditure.