Manchester City believe they have a chance of signing Lionel Messi after the forward told Barcelona he wants to leave.
Pep Guardiola was Messi’s manager at Barcelona for four hugely successful seasons from 2008-12 and would love to be reunited with the 33-year-old Argentinian. He had never anticipated Messi leaving the Camp Nou but City, whose chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain also worked at Barcelona, will try to secure a deal.
It is understood City are banking on being able to get Messi on a free or for a relatively minimal fee, and a legal battle may determine that. Messi’s camp believe he can walk away for nothing. Barcelona, by contrast, insist that he is still bound by a €700m (£629m) buy-out clause.
A clause in Messi’s contract allows him to leave for no fee provided he communicates that decision, which he did on Tuesday by burofax – in effect a recorded letter to ensure Barcelona are legally considered to have been informed. But there is disagreement over whether the window for that has closed.
Barcelona maintain Messi’s chance to walk away ended on 10 June, a date understood to be set by the principle that the player had 10 days after the end of the season. But in the event, the season did not end until 23 August.
The dispute suggests the wording does not specify a date but expresses it in more vague terms relating to the end of the season. That is reinforced by Barcelona’s belief that a season refers to a typical season. Messi’s camp will argue that it refers to the season in question and that he cannot be expected to communicate a decision such as that with games ongoing and Barcelona competing for the Champions League.
If the conflict is taken to court, Fifa can oblige the Spanish football federation to issue an international transfer certificate pending a resolution. The risk for any club that sign him in those circumstances is that if arbitration finds in Barcelona’s favour they would be liable to pay the €700m buy-out clause. Should it find in Messi’s favour, he would be free. A third option would be for adjudicators to fix a fee.
The risk is in all probability too great for suitors to take but the existence of a legal mechanism increases the pressure on Barcelona to strike a deal. Few cases reach court. Given the enormous economic difficulties Barcelona face and the fact that this administration could be held personally liable for losses, the chance to save a figure not far from €200m over the next season is an attractive one, even before a fee is discussed. Messi’s contract expires next summer, also serving to push his price down and put pressure on Barcelona.
At the presentation of Trincao, a £27.8m (€31m) signing from Braga, the new sporting director Ramon Planes insisted the club’s intention remained for Messi to continue and for them to build a team around him. “We do not contemplate Messi’s departure,” he said. Bartomeu will attempt to convince Messi to continue, although that does not extend to a promise to resign. Rather, he will underline the fact that his term in office will end in March. Barcelona remain adamant they will fight this legally if necessary.
City will not be alone in trying to sign Messi, with clubs helped by the relaxation of Uefa’s financial fair play rules. Paris Saint-Germain are expected to be among other interested clubs but it is understood Manchester United will not attempt to get him.
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