Lionel Messi will boycott Barcelona’s first day of training on Sunday, stepping up his efforts to force a move to Manchester City.
But Catalan radio RAC1 reported on Saturday night that Messi had informed the club he will not be attending. The move comes 24 hours after his lawyers requested talks with Barcelona and were flatly refused.
Lionel Messi has reportedly told Barcelona that he won’t be turning up for training on Sunday
New Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has a big job on his hands to hold onto the club legend
After a failed attempt to instigate a peaceful solution to his stand-off with the club, Messi was always likely to go back on the offensive. However, in communicating his no-show, he is also understood to have reiterated his desire to negotiate his departure from the club with an amicable settlement.
Messi believes beginning pre-season with the rest of the squad would contradict his stance that, having sent a burofax informing the club of his intention to leave on Tuesday, he is now a free agent.
Barcelona continue to insist that notice that he wanted to leave should have been served in June and he is back under contract with a €700million release clause.
But with Messi now in open rebellion, the pressure will be on president Josep Bartomeu to sort out an increasingly embarrassing situation for the Catalan club.
Manchester City may see this news as a boost to their hopes of signing the Argentinian star
Messi will be fined for his no-show and those financial penalties will multiply with every day of pre- season that he stays away, further damaging the relationship between club and player. There had been a sense among the hierarchy at Barca that by seeking talks, Messi had blinked first in this stand-off.
The board felt justified in their belief that Messi overplayed his hand in exercising the fiercely-disputed clause in his contract, which the player says makes him a free agent.
Messi was hoping the issue would be resolved quickly, that Barca would be forced to permit him to enter into negotiations with City immediately.
His contract states that the club had to be notified by him if he wished to leave by June 10, to take advantage of the clause which would let him depart as a free agent. Messi argues that the date is meant to indicate the end of the season and the exceptional circumstances of the coronavirus delay mean he fulfilled those criteria by exercising it last Tuesday.
In theory, Messi could simply sign for City and wait for a FIFA panel to adjudicate on his status. However, that would be an incendiary move, which he wants to avoid. It would also recast City as a club bent on taking on football’s authorities and elite clubs, just as they appeared to be heading for more cordial relations, having won their Financial Fair Play dispute with UEFA.
More importantly, it would run the risk of City eventually being ordered to pay the massive release clause, which is a potential liability no club could afford.
In theory, Messi could reunite with Guardiola and then wait for FIFA to adjudicate on his status
Messi must hope that City and Barcelona reach a compromise transfer fee that would leave the Catalan club with their honour intact and fulfil his desire to rejoin former manager Pep Guardiola.
Barca, however, maintain they have no interest in negotiating, nor in being compensated with what they see as City cast-offs, with Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva suggested as makeweights in a swap deal. They are interested in City defender Eric Garcia but see that as independent of Messi’s situation.
New head coach Koeman is intent on signing Georginio Wijnaldum, Sadio Mane – though Liverpool will resist – and Lyon forward Memphis Depay.
Bartomeu, president since 2014, has survived numerous crises and seems intent on riding out this one, which last week saw fans attempt to break into the Nou Camp to express their fury with the board.
Josep Bartomeu, the under-fire Barcelona president, seems intent on riding out this crisis too
Even Bartomeu’s offer to resign if Messi commits to staying seemed more of a political move designed to put the onus back on the player, given the president is standing down in March anyway.
There is no upside in Catalonia to being the man who sold Messi, just a lifetime of castigation. If the situation became so unmanageable that they had to seek a compromise with City, it would require something in excess of the £200m Paris Saint-Germain paid for Neymar in 2017.
At that level, it looks unmanageable for City, given Messi’s wages would be around €100m a year. A near half-a-billion euros package for a 33-year-old – albeit a great one – would be an ambitious statement of intent, even from a club backed by a nation state.
City and Messi’s best hope is that Barca would be forced to accept that the player exercising the clause was legitimate and that they could sign him on a free, an extraordinary transfer coup which could be justified despite the wage cost. The next-best hope is that they could use the turmoil to negotiate a reduced fee of £100m.
A near half-a-billion euros package for the superstar would be an ambitious statement of intent
Now all hangs on the meeting Messi wants with the club. Bartomeu is not standing in the March presidential election. It is likely that Victor Font will win and he has promised to replace Koeman with Xavi, the former player who is a close friend of Messi.
If Barca persuade Messi that his options are limited and that it would be better to wait seven months, it is likely he will finish his career under his former team-mate at the Nou Camp. And if Messi were to indicate in any oblique way that Font’s election would persuade him to stay, the candidate would be unbeatable.
Messi showed his displeasure with Koeman by serving notice on his contract shortly after the Dutchman told Luis Suarez he wanted him to leave.
Suarez and Messi are great friends and the Uruguayan is part of the Argentinian’s big plan for sorting out the dysfunction at the club, which led to the humiliating 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Messi showed his displeasure with Koeman shortly after Luis Suarez was told he can leave
That plan appears to be to reunite the old gang of Messi, Neymar and Suarez, which won the treble of Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey in 2015. Messi had urged Bartomeu to re-sign Neymar a year ago before the president recruited Frenchman Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid.
The last player involved in such a fraught stand-off with Barcelona was Neymar. He forced his way out because PSG paid a £200m release clause three years ago. For Messi, no suitor is willing to do the same with a €700m bid.
For now, the Premier League waits to see if the dream of the world’s greatest player coming to these shores can ever become a reality.