Manchester City believe they are at the ‘front of the queue’ to sign Lionel Messi following an admission from one of Barcelona’s presidential candidates that the star is expected to leave the club this summer.
Messi informed Barcelona of his desire to leave during the summer transfer window after becoming disillusioned with the Catalan side’s fortunes, though ultimately remained for the 2020/21 campaign to avoid an ugly legal dispute.
The Argentina international has now entered the final months of his contract at the Camp Nou, however, and is free to negotiate with foreign sides this month ahead of a potential pre-contract agreement.
The 33-year-old has set he will delay a decision over his future until the end of the current campaign with Messi awaiting the outcome of Barcelona’s presidential elections, though his future with the Spanish giants has once again been placed into doubt following comments from one of the candidates for the role.
Agusti Benedito has questioned whether the club’s all-time record goalscorer will still be a Barcelona player beyond the end of the season, admitting he is ‘pessimistic’ over Messi’s future.
“Keeping Messi would be the best news for the club but I am not very optimistic,” Benedito told ESPN.
Wait for that Messi and Pedri link-up for Barcelona's second goal 😍pic.twitter.com/mB11E9GnkF
— Goal (@goal) January 6, 2021
“Given the club’s situation, I think it’s really important that he stays at Barca, with the understanding that he understands the next two years we have in front us [could be difficult].
“He’s been here for 20 years – he’s a Barcelona fan and I think he’s sensitive to the situation.
“He has given us so much in the same way that Barcelona have given him a lot and it’s time for us all to roll up our sleeves.
“I would have liked him to say in his interview the other week that his desire is to stay at the club, but he didn’t and now we have to wait and see. The truth is I am pessimistic.
“Remember that in August he said he wanted to leave after 20 years and now he’s still not cleared up what he wants to do. The most likely outcome I see is that he leaves us in the summer.”
According to the Telegraph, however, Manchester City believe they are the frontrunners for the star’s signature in deal that would see Messi reunite with former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola at the Etihad, the two having enjoyed the most successful periods of their careers in tandem in Catalonia.
Barcelona will do their utmost to persuade the six-time Ballon d’Or winner – who has scored an incredible 646 goals in 751 appearances for the club – to remain in Spain, and AS are reporting the Spanish side are considering investing in a MLS franchise to help facilitate Messi’s desire to move to the United States.
Messi has spoken of his interest in playing in MLS and Barcelona are exploring the possibility of purchasing a franchise in the hope they can persuade Messi to remain in Catalonia before an eventual move to the US.
Any deal remains hugely complicated, however, given Barcelona’s dire financial predicament at present and Messi’s desire to play in MLS could yet favour City, who have sister-club New York City under the Abu Dhabi-owned City Football Group umbrella.
French champions PSG are also believed to be keen.