In the world of soccer, no player is more closely associated with a team than Leo Messi and Barcelona. That could soon change. Messi has reportedly told Barcelona that he intends to void his contract, ending a 20-year relationship that started when he was just 13.
While Barcelona denies these reports — and there’s speculation that the situation could end up being decided by the courts — there’s at least the possibility that Messi could walk on a free, essentially allowing him to join whatever team he pleases and demanding just about whatever he wants.
There probably isn’t a team in the world who would turn down a chance to sign Messi — almost no matter the cost — but here are some of the more intriguing possibilities, along with their betting odds.
Ever since the possibility of Messi switching teams first became a seeming possibility, City has been the most prominently mentioned destination. It’s not just that they are effectively owned by the United Arab Emirates and have more money than anyone. They’re also managed by Pep Guardiola, the coach who led him to two of his four UEFA Champions League titles. City has consistently been among England’s best teams since Guardiola joined them, but have failed to complete his mission of European glory.
In addition to City, Manchester United (12-1), Liverpool (14-1), Arsenal (40-1), Chelsea (40-1) and Leeds United (50-1) are all deemed solid enough bets to be named. Collectively, the oddsmakers seem to think there’s a pretty good chance he’s going to end up in the EPL. For my money, the most intriguing of these possibilities is Leeds. Once, one of England’s top teams, they’ve been out of the top flight since being relegated after the 2003-04 season. Messi supposedly campaigned for Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa to join Barcelona prior to Ronald Koeman’s hiring. Unfortunately, we’d have to wait at least another year before we get an answer to the age-old question of whether he can “do the business on a rainy day at Stoke”?
It might be a little surprising to see Inter Milan so high on this list. But they’ve got a few things going for them. The first is chairman Steven Zhang, who effectively manages the team’s finances on behalf of his father’s company Suning Holdings Group. Inter Milan has been among the teams most openly trying to recruit Messi. The Italian giants are about a decade removed from being among the sport’s elite and likely see Messi as a ticket back into that conversation. A move to Serie A would also re-ignite Messi’s rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined fellow Italian side Juventus ahead of last season.
Like Manchester City, PSG are effectively owned by a nation-state and their wealth is primarily what makes this possible. In this case, it’s Qatar’s Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. As you may have heard, PSG already has one of the most expensive rosters in the world (right behind City) that features the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. Given the presence of those two, Messi probably doesn’t make a ton of sense from a roster-building perspective. But I’m sure they’d figure out a way to make it work. PSG is fresh off a loss in the Champions League final, so maybe they see Messi as the missing piece to this very expensive puzzle.
To be completely honest, I don’t know why Juventus is this high on the betting charts. They are owned by the Agnelli family, whose worth is estimated at about $13.5 billion. They also own Fiat. No one doubts they have money and Messi is probably looking for a lot of it, so that probably explains the connection. This would pair up the two most successful players of the modern era, but it would also force Juventus to commit the equivalent a small nation’s GDP to two players on the wrong side of 30. On the other hand, it would likely force a few soccer journalist’s heads to explode after they’d spent so much time making it seem like these two represented such diametrically opposed visions of the perfect soccer player.
Remember when David Beckham signed for the LA Galaxy and everyone thought “wow, that’s crazy”? Well, this would be like 10 times crazier. Even with the rapidly increasing values of MLS teams, Messi’s contract would likely be worth more than almost any one team in the league. Even if the league could collectively find a way to justify underwriting that kind of deal (similar to how they did with Beckham) convincing Messi would be extremely difficult. Then again, maybe the siren-call of Miami or Los Angeles is just what he needs right now. (Note: None of this should preclude the possibility of it happening a few more years down the line…)
No one should doubt that Bayern Munich has the money to sign Messi, but it would definitely be a bit out of character for them. While they are happy to buy up the best German players, they usually don’t splash this kind of money on foreigners. Messi could be the exception, though. Bayern Munich were the team that eliminated Barca from Champions League this year (and went on to win the treble), so they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.
Before he was a world-superstar, Messi was just a promising kid coming up through the Newell’s Old Boys academy. Well, not just any kid. He supposedly scored 234 goals in 176 games between 1994-99, which is how he attracted the attention of international scouts. This would not be a move that makes any sort of economic sense, but maybe Messi is just longing to connect to his native land after failing to bring them any sort of international glory.
This is sort of the x-factor answer, and apparently the betting public thinks it’s at least within the realm of possibility. This probably only happens if Barcelona manages to convince a judge that the opportunity to void his contract passed while the team was on its Covid-19 hiatus and either tries to force him to remain or demands a nine-figure transfer fee. At 33, the only thing left for him to accomplish is winning an international trophy for Argentina, a team he quit in 2016. Although he came back to make a run at the 2018 World Cup, he’s unlikely to stick around just to take another shot in 2022 with all the chaos that’s surrounded the team.