Could Lionel Messi really leave Barcelona? That’s the question supporters of the Catalan giants are asking as speculation about the Argentina international continues to dominate the front pages in Spain.
Messi has been left angry and disappointed by Barcelona’s 8-2 thrashing by Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The 33-year-old has told new manager Ronald Koeman he’s currently closer to leaving the club than staying.
Despite all the speculation, it’s worth noting that Messi is still under contract at Barcelona until the end of next season and has a buyout clause set at €700 million.
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Why Messi Could Leave Barcelona
Barcelona’s reliance on Messi has been highlighted again this season, while the forward’s frustration with his club has seemingly grown. Messi remains the best footballer on the planet and picked up a record sixth Ballon d’Or, given to the world’s best player, back in December.
Yet he has expressed his annoyance at the club more than once this season. The captain hit out at Eric Abidal in February after the sporting director blamed the players for Ernesto Valverde’s sacking and also showed his frustration in a statement confirming Barca players would take salary cuts in March.
Messi finished the season top of the scoring and assists charts in Spain but ends the campaign with no silverware for the first time since 2007-08. Indeed the Champions League exit to Bayern was the third year in a row the club have exited the competition in humiliating circumstances.
Barcelona have invested heavily in recent seasons too, bringing in Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Frenkie de Jong, Antoine Griezmann, and others, but look no closer to being crowned European champions.
Messi seemed to know what was coming too. He warned his team they must improve after losing the league title to Real Madrid.
“I already said before that playing like this we won’t be able to fight for the Champions League and you see, we could not even fight for the league. We need to be self-critical. We are all aware that there are many things to improve, we must be more consistent and more reliable.”
La Liga expert Graham Hunter told Sky Sports that Messi is not interested in leaving for money or because Barcelona are in a mess but because he wants to win the Champions League again.
The Argentine has not lifted the European Cup since 2015 and, at the age of 33, knows that time is running out. Yet Barcelona’s dismal showing against Bayern simply highlighted how far away the club are from being crowned European champions again.
Why Messi Could Stay at Barcelona
Yet Messi leaving Barcelona will not be easy and there are few clubs that could afford to sign the Barcelona captain. Indeed the Catalan giants “continue to point to his €700 million release clause,” according to Moises Llorens and Sam Marsden at ESPN.
Messi is out of contract next summer, meaning he can walk away for free, so if Barcelona are to sell they would have to drop his price. Even so only Inter, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain could afford to land 33-year-old, according to Marca.
There’s also the question of whether Messi would be willing to uproot his young family and move to a new country. The forward has been in Barcelona since the age of 13 and has spoken fondly of how it is his home in an interview with Mundo Deportivo.
“I love Barcelona although I really do miss Rosario. This is my home, I’ve been here longer than Argentina. I love Barcelona, where I live and I really enjoy what I do for a living.”
Meanwhile, things are changing at Barcelona. Ronald Koeman has arrived as the club’s next manager, while presidential elections are due to take place in 2021 and will see unpopular president Josep Maria Bartomeu replaced.
There is plenty of emerging young talent at the Camp Nou too in the shape of Riqui Puig, Ansu Fati, Pedri, Ronald Araujo, and Francisco Trincao, but it still remains to be seen if that will be enough to keep the Messi at Barcelona.