Lionel Messi’s future looks set to become the most talked about football story of the summer once again, with Barcelona increasingly resigned to losing their greatest ever player at the end of the season.
Messi made no secret of his desire to leave the Spanish giants last summer after a turbulent period at the Camp Nou, before reluctantly remaining with the Catalans following talks with the club’s hierarchy and new manager Ronald Koeman.
The Argentina international has just months remaining on his contract, however, and will be free to walk away without restrictions at the end of the season, Koeman admitting recently he is ‘not confident’ of agreeing a new deal with the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Barcelona’s crippling financial situation only serves to make their prospects appear ever more bleak, and Europe’s biggest clubs will now be queuing up in a bid to sign arguably the game’s greatest on a free transfer.
Here are the bookmakers five favourites to sign Lionel Messi this summer:
Manchester United – 20/1
Manchester United have made notable progress under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season and will enter the market for reinforcements during the summer, the Red Devils priced as 20/1 outsiders to secure Messi on a free transfer.
United are aware are amongst the few clubs with the financial power to secure a deal, whilst securing his signing would be a huge statement of intent and a deal likely to appeal to the commercially-driven Ed Woodward.
United chased Jadon Sancho last summer but failed to make significant progress on a British transfer-record deal for the Borussia Dortmund star, and Messi could potentially offer an incredible short-term solution to their problem position on the right.
Messi’s impending availability represents a one time opportunity for one of Europe’s top clubs to seal the signing of arguably the world’s finest footballer, and any side with the finances to make a move would appear foolish to not make enquiries at the very least.
Inter Milan – 12/1
Inter Milan have been strongly linked with a move for Messi since his unhappiness at Barcelona emerged, the Nerazzurri keen on putting the star in a formidable forward line alongside international teammate Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku.
Inter’s majority shareholders, Suning Group Holdings, believe they can finance a deal to entice the Argentina captain to Italy and a move to Serie A would offer a resumption of the forward’s long-term rivalry with Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Antonio Conte’s side are in pursuit of the league title this season after missing out by just a single point last term, and the signing of Messi could help an improving Inter compete with Europe’s best once again after struggling for much of the past decade.
Any MLS side – 10/1
Messi has expressed a desire to move to MLS before the end of his career and a switch to any US side is currently priced at 10/1, in what would be the biggest signing in the history of the sport in America.
David Beckham’s franchise Inter Miami are one side to have been linked with a potential deal, though it appears unlikely Messi would move to the States at present given he remains one of world football’s finest players.
Speculation had emerged that Barcelona could look to invest in an MLS franchise in order to persuade the star to stay and facilitate Messi’s wish in the future, though the logistics and financial situation of the Catalans makes that appear an illogical forward step.
Paris Saint-Germain – 7/2
Billionaire-backed and home to two of the game’s genuine superstars in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, the prospect of Messi moving to Paris Saint-Germain is regarded as 7/2 odds by the bookmakers.
Messi played alongside Neymar at Barcelona and enjoyed huge success as the duo won two league titles and the Champions League in tandem, with the two players retaining a strong relationship and Neymar speaking vocally about his desire for a reunion.
PSG have dominated domestically in recent years but are yet to conquer Europe with the Champions League success their ownership craves, falling narrowly short last season after final defeat to Bayern Munich.
A deal for Messi would be like hitting a 300% casino bonus for the French Champions and makes sense for all parties with PSG providing the 33-year-old with a platform to challenge for club football’s biggest prize, whilst the less demanding nature of Ligue 1 can allow the Argentine to place greater focus on Champions League success in the latter stages of his career.
Affording the star’s wages may prove problematic, however, given the presence of both Neymar and Mbappe in the French capital.
Manchester City – 3/1
Manchester City are the bookmakers favourites to secure the signing of Messi this summer, in a deal which would see the superstar link up with former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola at the Etihad.
The two enjoyed the most successful periods of their respective careers together in Catalonia, Guardiola guiding Barcelona to 14 trophies in just four seasons with Messi winning the Ballon d’Or in each campaign.
Speculation has continued to surround the deal and Messi’s relationship with Guardiola could prove the crucial factor in his next move, whilst the prospect of joining a City side containing talents such as Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling will no doubt appeal.
Messi has tormented Premier League opposition on a regular basis in the Champions League throughout an illustrious career at Barcelona, and next season could do so on a weekly basis.