Manchester City and Champions League finalists Paris St-Germain are among a host of top European clubs circling for the signature of Lionel Messi after his bombshell request to leave Barcelona.
His move is expected to spark a legal battle over a multi-million-dollar buy-out clause even as it raises the question of which club could afford him in the heat of the coronavirus pandemic.
Messi’s priority has always been to be part of a “winning project” at Camp Nou, and newly-appointed sporting director Ramon Planes on Wednesday hailed the Argentinian as a “winner” the Catalan club was working hard to keep.
Messi is Barca’s record scorer and helped the club amass four Champions League titles, 10 La Liga titles and six Copa del Rey trophies.
Barcelona’s latest season, however, was not only devoid of trophies (for the first time since 2008), it was also defined by chaos and ended in humiliation with a 8-2 Champions League quarterfinal defeat by eventual champions Bayern Munich.
And the six-time Ballon d’Or winner has asked to move on to a club he believes can compete for the Champions League.
It is understood that the two clubs that could afford him are Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, with Inter Milan a third, more distant option.
City would appear favourites, but the club have always trodden carefully around the question of Messi.
For PSG, whose frustration in Europe has been comparable to City’s, even though the French club broke new ground by reaching last weekend’s final, Messi would also represent a seismic addition to the Qatari project.
A Neymar-Messi-Kylian Mbappe front three would not be a difficult sell.
Staying at Barcelona remains a possibility, however, particularly if under-pressure president Josep Maria Bartomeu resigns.