Messi coup would cost City £500m

➤ Barcelona want £200m fee af­ter re­ject­ing break clause ➤ Manch­ester club face £300m wage bill over three-year deal

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Ben Rumsby SPORTS IN­VES­TI­GA­TIONS RE­PORTER

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

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