MANCHESTER CITY is set to return for Lionel Messi in January.
City missed the Barcelona superstar this summer when they were forced to stay after a bitter legal row.
But with the Argentine’s relationship with Barca still icy and the Spanish club desperate for money, City are considering stepping into the next transfer window.
It would be a sure sign of their commitment to boss Pep Guardiola, who has yet to make a deal to stay at the Etihad beyond next summer.
Messi, 33, is out of contract at the end of the season and his club bosses are resigned that their legendary striker could step down for free.
But they need to cut costs considerably, with debts of £ 437million.
The possibility of charging a fee, perhaps less than £ 50million, for the six-time World Player of the Year is one of the chances Barca find too good to refuse.
Messi, who has scored 640 goals in 741 games for Barca, has struggled to produce his best glitter this season under new boss Ronald Koeman.
His dive into form followed an incredible public outburst at the club who he said were going back on their word to let him go over the summer, with City waiting backstage to pick him up.
Messi ultimately lost the power struggle when Barca made it clear they would take legal action to prevent him from leaving – and since then the relationship between the club and the player has been cool at best.
City have retained their interest, believing they can lure him to the Northwest as soon as he becomes available.
And there is a belief that the current situation could prompt them to tempt Barca with an offer for the New Year to finally secure his signature.
Basically, UEFA rules now allow players to trade for a Champions League club in the second half of the season, even if they have competed for another team in the group stage.
So capturing Messi would be a huge boost for City as Guardiola finally seeks the European title that the club and the manager himself aspire to.
The city’s board is aware that there is no concrete commitment that Guardiola, 49, will stay – but they hope the disembarkation of his former maestro from the Nou Camp proves that they will continue to do so. support in terms of transfer.