Last week we opened a portal into a different dimension: one in which Lionel Messi plays for someone other than Barcelona.
His Barcelona contract expires in June of 2021 and, according to reports in Spain, he has broken off extension talks and is considering his future. Messi is apparently unhappy with the club’s front office, the players recruited around him and the drip-drip-drip of leaks that depict him as some kind of behind-the-scenes power broker, influencing most of Barcelona’s recent (and mostly poor) decisions.
That is pretty much all we have right now. Messi’s camp has not commented and Barcelona’s only comment was president Jose Maria Bartomeu saying that the club had an obligation to renew his contract and that the player himself had said “many times” that he wants to retire at the Camp Nou.
Still, there is no escaping the reality that in less than 12 months he will be a free agent and he hasn’t committed past that point. And, until he does, it’s more than implicit that he is considering the possibility of being elsewhere come July 1, 2021.
Still, the prospect of him leaving feels flimsy even before you consider all the other factors. Like the fact that the 33-year-old Messi has been at the club since he was 13 and has never seriously hinted at a desire to leave.
Or the fact that if Bartomeu and the front office are part of the problem, there’s a good chance they will be gone by 2021; the president’s term expires and he will not seek re-election and every indication is that, whoever replaces him, there will be a major shake-up.
Or, indeed, Messi’s salary which is somewhere north of $70 million when factoring in bonuses and image rights, meaning he either takes a massive pay cut or you can count on one hand the number of clubs who can afford him.
And yet, the mere possibility of a Messi move is enough to send tremors. Particularly since, unlike the other seismic GOAT candidate move, if Messi runs down his contract, he won’t leave for a €100 million fee like Cristiano Ronaldo did when he joined Juventus from Real Madrid in 2018, but rather as a free agent.
The single biggest factor is that Messi has to want to do this. And for somebody to want to leave a club after two decades, during which he has won everything at club level and is still the reigning Ballon d’Or? Well, it’s going to take a lot.
Either he finds a sudden wanderlust and desire to take on new challenges in unfamiliar countries (that would be a side previously unseen; a famously private person, every account depicts Messi as a homebody interested in little outside of football and family), or Barcelona become such a mess that, at 34 (the age he turns six weeks before his deal expires), he no longer wants to put up with it.