Messi coup would cost City £500m
➤ Barcelona want £200m fee after rejecting break clause ➤ Manchester club face £300m wage bill over three-year deal
Lionel Messi would cost Manchester City half a billion pounds if they went ahead with what would be the biggest signing in Premier League history before the start of the season.
City were last night thought to be considering a sensational swoop for Messi after he handed in a transfer request at Barcelona and demanded to be allowed to leave for nothing this summer.
But Barca were yesterday refusing to honour a break clause in his contract which expired in June and which left him facing paying a €700 million (£631.3 million) buyout clause to walk away.
The club were reportedly holding out for a world-record £200 million fee for their greatest player, who earns around £100 million a year in wages and bonuses.
City were last night weighing up offering Messi a long-term contract that would see him play for them for three years, before moving to sister club New York City FC, as well as giving him the chance to become an ambassador for parent company City Football Group.
That would cost them £500 million in total, unless Barca could be made to budge on their asking price or Messi took a pay cut.
City declined to comment yesterday on what The Daily Telegraph has been told the club view as speculation linking them to the 33-year-old. That included claims manager Pep Guardiola – who formed an almost unbeatable partnership with Messi during their time together at the Nou Camp – spoke to his former talisman last week to explain how the latter could fit into his plans. The other club linked with Messi, Paris St-Germain, were last night reportedly out of the running due to the impact of coronavirus on their income and fears signing him could breach Financial Fair Play rules.
Messi’s legendary near-twodecade Barca career is in danger of ending in acrimony, particularly if he and the club were to go to war over his break clause.
Messi’s transfer request made it clear his camp wants the spirit of that clause to be honoured given it was intended to come into effect at the end of the season, one artificially extended by the Covid crisis.
But John Mehrzad, QC, a leading sports law specialist at Littleton Chambers, told The Telegraph the literal meaning of the clause was likely to hold sway in any legal row.
That could destroy any prospect of Messi leaving and certainly make him think twice about trying to force an exit before any dispute over a buyout clause for which he is technically liable was resolved.
There were also major doubts last night from senior figures in football on whether Messi wanted out at all, with some convinced he is plotting to oust the current board and president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Others cast doubt on whether any club, even City, would be prepared to match the Argentine’s salary, which would shatter the wage structure of a team.
Messi’s transfer request sparked huge protests by Barca fans outside
the Nou Camp on Tuesday night, including chants calling for Bartomeu’s resignation.
The club president was conspicuous by his absence yesterday from the first public event since the presentation of new signing Francisco Trincao.
Ramon Planes, the new sporting director, was left to field questions on Messi. He said Barca would fight to keep a player considered by many to be the best of all time.
“As we have said many times, we’re still thinking of Messi as a Barca player,” Planes said. “Barca have rebuilt themselves many times and have always bounced back stronger. Our idea is to rebuild around the best player in the world.
“There’s a huge amount of respect for Leo because of what he is and his story here, but we’re not thinking about any contractual clause. We can’t have a public dispute between Barca and Messi because neither side deserves that.
“The marriage between Messi and Barca has given the fans a huge amount of joy and we have to fight for that relationship to continue. Internally, we’re working hard to convince Messi to stay.
“There is no internal division on this at all. Anyone that understands a little bit about football wants to have Leo in their team.”
Even if Messi succeeds in ousting Bartomeu, with whom he has spent the past year battling over the direction of the club, there is no guarantee he will like what comes next.
Toni Freixa, who is a candidate to replace Bartomeu, told Radio Marca: “I am not overly concerned about Messi leaving because everything has an end.
“I am surprised and disappointed as a Barcelona man. I am disappointed by what Messi has done.
“The contracts are to be fulfilled and what Messi has to do is come with €700 million and leave.”
Acrimony: Lionel Messi’s time at Barcelona could end in a bitter legal battle
Demonstrations: Barcelona fans protest outside the Nou Camp, calling for president Josep Bartomeu to resign