Where next, Messi ? Few clubs can meet his financial demands

Sports

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi leaves the pitch after the the Champions League quarterfinal soccer match between Barcelona and Bayern Munich in Lisbon, Portugal, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. Bayern won the match 8-2. (Rafael Marchante/Pool via AP)

GENEVA (AP) — Any club in world soccer should want Lionel Messi in its lineup.

But only a select few could make a financial deal work for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.

Messi is trying to force a move after 20 years with Barcelona, which wants to hold him to a contract that runs through June 2021.

The money in that contract is daunting: a reported 100 million euros ($118 million) annual salary package and release clause demanding a 700 million euros ($827 million) transfer fee.

The 33-year-old Argentina star wants out of the rebuilding project at Barca after a rare trophy-less season. He clearly lost respect for the club’s directors who look ready for a legal fight to enforce a transfer fee key to helping reinforce an aging team.

Messi believes he should be allowed to leave for nothing. A clause in his contract set a June 10 deadline for him to request a free transfer — intended to be after the season ended.

European soccer’s unforeseen shutdown during the pandemic pushed the season into August, and Messi believes he can still invoke the clause now.

Even if Messi leaves for free or Barcelona compromises on the transfer fee, the overall cost will test his new club’s compliance with UEFA’s financial fair play (FFP) rules.

UEFA will put some monitoring rules on hold while soccer’s economy is rocked by teams playing in front of few or no fans.

But would influential rivals look the other way if a lucky club skipped the rules to get a one-time-only chance of signing arguably soccer’s greatest player?

Here’s where Messi might land:

SPAIN

Barcelona still hopes to keep Messi at least for another season.

The Catalan club said Wednesday its restructuring project revolves around the Argentina great.

“We want to rebuild for the future together with the best player in history,” said Ramon Planes, the club’s technical director. “We are not contemplating any departure on a contractual level because we want him to stay.”

Barcelona is trying to avoid an abrupt and bitter end to Messi’s career that brought four European titles and 10 La Liga trophies.

“We can’t make this a dispute between Leo Messi and Barcelona because neither deserves it,” Planes said.

Could Messi’s tactics ultimately force regime change in the Nou Camp boardroom and keep him on the field?

— By Tales Azzoni in Madrid.

ENGLAND

Many see Manchester City as the most obvious destination, given its Abu Dhabi-backed wealth and presence of three high-ranking former Barcelona officials Messi knows well.

Not just coach Pep Guardiola, also chief executive Ferran Soriano and sporting director Txiki Begiristain.

Guardiola is often asked if he could see Messi joining City and always downplays the possibility. “My wish is Messi is going to stay at Barcelona,” he said last month.

Recently, City hasn’t been the sort of club to sign so-called “galacticos,” focusing mostly instead on younger and up-and-coming talent. It would surely make an exception for Messi.

Manchester United also has the financial power to land Messi, and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward likes a signature signing.

Still, United’s unofficial policy under coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is to sign young British talent.

If part-swap deals can be made to appear as transfer income within UEFA’s financial monitoring rules, such a deal involving Bernardo Silva (City) or Paul Pogba (United) could become possible.

— By Steve Douglas.

ITALY

Rumors of a Messi move to Inter Milan have run for months because the player and his father have reportedly bought apartments in the city. If true, the reasons could be for tax planning rather than his soccer future.

Another long-standing rumor has been Barcelona’s interest in Inter forward Lautaro Martinez, Messi’s 23-year-old Argentina teammate.

Could an FFP-friendly deal be worked out with Inter, owned by Chinese conglomerate Suning, which was previously fined by UEFA for breaking the rules?

Inter is back in the Champions League, has a widely respected coach in Antonio Conte and finished the season one point behind perennial Serie A champion Juventus.

It would also revive Messi’s storied rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Juve in 2018 after nine years at Real Madrid.

— By Graham Dunbar.

FRANCE

Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel was crystal clear about wanting Messi in his team.

“He’s very welcome. What coach says no to Messi?” said Tuchel, whose side lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich on Sunday.

But when making those comments Tuchel thought Messi would stay in Spain, calling him “Mister Barcelona.”

Now that could change and signing Messi would be a coup for PSG and reunite him with former Barca teammate and friend Neymar. Alongside Kylian Mbappé they would form the most feared strike force.

It is unclear if Qatar-owned PSG could actually buy Messi — and pay yet another star’s enormous wages — amid intense scrutiny of its FFP accounts.

— By Jerome Pugmire in Paris.

GERMANY

Bayern Munich appears in little need of reinforcement after winning a Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup treble.

Bayern already planned for a record-extending ninth consecutive league title by signing Germany winger Leroy Sané from Man City.

The Bavarian powerhouse has grown on and off the pitch thanks to smart financial management, with revenue of 750 million euros ($886 million) in the most recent annual accounts and profit after tax of 52 million euros ($61.5 million).

When World Cup-winning France defender Lucas Hernández arrived last year for a club-record 80 million euros ($95 million) from Atlético Madrid, it was an exception.

Bayern prefers low-risk transfer dealings. Loans for Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona and midfielder James Rodriguez from Real Madrid were not made permanent, and it targets younger players,

Paying a huge sum for a 33-year-old, however great, would go against the European champion’s entire philosophy.

— By Ciarán Fahey in Berlin.

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