For anyone making a list of those players available this summer after contracts across Europe end on Wednesday, there’s only one place to start, with a trio of Andy Carroll, Josh King and, uh, Lionel Messi.
A year after almost leaving Barcelona, Messi has now seen his contract with the Blaugrana come to an end, although the background music was unusually much more convincing 12 months ago when the Argentinian tried to force Camp Nou out. .
Now he’s actually available – and available for nothing – there isn’t much suggestion that he will actually leave the club. There appears to be an expectation that Messi will accept a new deal with Barcelona, wheels oiled by Joan Laporta’s re-election as club president.
But until that deal is signed and sealed, Messi is, technically, a free agent and quite attractive, with 672 goals in 778 games for Barcelona and all six Ballon d’Or awards on his chimney.
The odds of him ending up in Manchester are slimmer than they were a year ago, when there was a brief moment when it looked like Messi at City was going to happen. But even if it’s unlikely now, could either club afford it?
City have always approached Messi’s situation with caution and Pep Guardiola has regularly reiterated his own desire to see Messi end his career with Barcelona. When he asked to leave the club a year ago, City were ready, but they also remained respectful throughout the process.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News in October, City COO Omar Berrada suggested the money was there, an opportunity arose to sign Messi and that it would remain the case. But City have other priorities this summer.
In February, details of Messi’s contract leaked to the Spanish press and they suggested he was making more than £ 100million a year at Camp Nou. That number is likely to drop given Barcelona’s state of finances since the start of the pandemic, but even so, it’s a significant sum to cover for a club, even without a transfer fee.
And after suggesting money was available a year ago, City are prioritizing other moves this summer, like signing Jack Grealish from Aston Villa and trying to tempt Tottenham to part ways with Harry Kane. . Both of these deals could shatter City’s transfer record, which certainly suggests that Messi is no longer on the agenda, although there is uncertainty over a few squad players at the Etihad, which could , in theory, create room on the payroll.
As for Manchester United, that has never been a realistic proposition, although some overseas publications linked Messi to Old Trafford last summer.
This is the way things are for United, who have become accustomed to seeing their name used to generate interest in a player, pressure contract negotiations or just sell a few papers.
In recent years, they’ve moved away from signing what Florentino Perez might call a galactic. They also took a cautious financial approach during the pandemic and consistently refused to do business with Borussia Dortmund for Jadon Sancho last summer, when the asking price never came down from £ 108million.
That kind of financial frugality doesn’t fit with a decision by a 34-year-old free agent who would be the highest paid player in the world, no matter how good he is.
United’s income gives them a certain degree of financial freedom despite being run with more business outlook than most clubs by the Glazer family, but that freedom is carefully managed and will never be sacrificed to Messi. If United tried to sign one of this generation’s prominent gaming superstars, they would try to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford rather than Messi.
They also signed the striker they really wanted from that window. Sancho has been Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s main target for some time and the speed with which United has moved to secure a £ 72.9million deal is an impressive job. The 21-year-old may not be in Messi’s league, but he is a perfect fit for the squad Solskjaer is building.
At Edinson Cavani they have a 34-year-old center-forward tied for another year and although signing a striker is a top priority next summer, Messi does not fit into those plans.
Right now Messi is with Argentina at the Copa America which may add further intrigue to his situation considering Brazil are 5,000 miles from Barcelona but it also hints at the relaxed nature of seeing the best player in the world technically without a club at the moment.
How long that will remain the case, we’ll see, and Laporta certainly looks relaxed about the current status quo.
“We want him to stay and Leo wants to stay, everything is on the right track, what remains to be settled is the question of fair play and we are in the process of finding the best solution for both parties”, said Laporta at El Transistor. .
“I would like to be able to announce that he remains but for the moment I cannot do it, because we are looking for the best solution for both parties. “