Lionel Messi is entering the final six months of his Barcelona contract. The end of an era is, potentially, in sight and that would usher in a strange new world, particularly for Barca and his possible next employers.
Messi declared his desire to leave Barcelona back in August, but the club and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu stood firm – their talisman and most iconic player in the institution's modern history was reluctant to drag them through the courts.
Although his initial announcement came as a shock, in some ways it was entirely predictable. The turmoil engulfing Barca's hierarchy and their decision-making in the past few years looked destined to come to a head – there would be major consequences, and Messi leaving was always going to be the worst-case scenario.
The departure of Bartomeu and the likelihood of Joan Laporta being his successor certainly improve Barca's chances of keeping Messi, but as he heads into the final six months of a contract that ends on June 30 he can start to discuss free transfers with other clubs.
Messi leaving Barca appears a real possibility. What will determine his next destination? Romance? Trophies? Vengeance?
If it's the latter, we have a few tongue-in-cheek destinations in mind, however unlikely they may be…
Imagine the chaos, the hysteria. If Barca have angered him so much, what better way to really get his own back on them? Moving to the Santiago Bernabeu would be a remarkable switch, the ultimate act of vengeance. Luis Figo had a pig's head thrown towards him when he returned to Camp Nou after joining Madrid – you can only wonder what reception would await Messi if he were to commit the cardinal sin of crossing that divide.
Still on #Messi 's to-do list:— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 17, 2019
Club appearance record
7th Pichichi, 7th Golden Shoe
Top Giggs’ 36 & Vítor Baía’s 35 trophies
5th Champions League
Clásico appearance record
50th free-kick goal
500th league goal
700th pro goal
Next up? pic.twitter.com/qYMeq7wVqD
There is a running joke in England that Messi "wouldn't be able to do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke". It derives from pundit Andy Gray, who in 2010 claimed – without a hint of irony – that Messi would "struggle on a cold night at the Britannia Stadium". His comment became embellished, but was regularly used as a stick to beat Messi with by Premier League fans who wanted to accentuate the physicality of England's elite division. Based on the idea Stoke were scrappy and the city sees more than its fair share of bad weather, as well as the stadium's renown for being windy, it was seen as the Premier League's grimmest away trip. After earning millions every season for the past 15 years or so, why not take a modest deal to prove he can in fact do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke?
The player rivalry that has defined the past 13 years or so at the top of football has been Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo. During the latter's days at Real Madrid, the pair were involved in some of the most enthralling matchups in world football as they tussled in a host of Clasicos and often played decisive roles in LaLiga title races. But their rivalry didn't stop there – it extended to their domination of prestigious individual awards, such as the Ballon d'Or; Messi has six to Ronaldo's five. Why not rekindle that fire by joining Juve's rivals Inter? The Derby d'Italia could usurp El Clasico as the world's most-anticipated club game.
For all of Messi's apparent issues with the Barca board, it seems unlikely that he doesn't still love the club – after all, he was signed up as a 12-year-old. The 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich back in August will have hurt. How better to get revenge than to move to Die Roten's arch-rivals Dortmund? He could be the final piece of the puzzle that finally overthrows Bayern's Bundesliga dominance.
Müller— CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE (@FCBayernEN) August 14, 2020
Kimmich (cc: Davies)
Your favourite goal vs Barca? pic.twitter.com/P1mJXnSNdW