This is the strongest the rumour has ever been. Well, after Messi officially wanted out, it is not a rumour anymore. So what led to Messi to ask to leave the club where he has been for two decades?
"August 2020 - DELETE!"
That is probably what every FC Barcelona fan around the world must be thinking. As if that 8-2 humiliation in Bayern Munich's was not enough. As if a week of chaos after that game was not enough that they had to listen to this.
That their skipper Lionel Messi, their greatest ever player, has handed in a request to terminate his contract with the club unilaterally. The mercurial Argentine sent a bureau-fax to the club authorities on Sunday saying that he wants to trigger the clause in his contract which lets him go for free at the end of every season.
This is the strongest the rumour has ever been. Well, after Messi officially wanted out, it is not a rumour anymore. So what led to Messi to ask to leave the club where he has been for two decades? Why is he all of a sudden bitter with the club? For starters, it's not that sudden.
Messi asks to leave
Messi has a clause in his 700 million Euros release clause-contract that allows him to leave the club for free at the end of every season. And La Pulga has asked the Barcelona hierarchy that he wants to trigger that clause on Tuesday.
Now the question is, can he? Because his contract says that if he is to leave, he must tell the club by June 10, 10 days after the season in a normal year ends. The Catalan club is holding on to that as they, like any other club in the world, don't want to let go off the six-times Ballon d'Or winner. Messi's entourage believes that as the season ended on August 23 with Uefa Champions League (UCL) final, they still have that 10-day period to trigger the clause.
Matters might get ugly if both parties hold on to their demands as things could lead to court for legal proceedings.
It might look like that 8-2 defeat was too much for the Barcelona captain but surely Messi's willingness to leave grew over the last few months over various issues and the defeat was Messi's melting point.
In January, the then Technical Secretary Eric Abidal had blamed the players for being behind Ernesto Valverde's sacking. Then, information leaked from the club said that the players did not want a pay-cut after the Covid-19 pandemic hit them - which turned out to be false as all the players took a 70% pay-cut to deal with the crisis, announced by Messi on Instagram.
But Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu asked for another and it was Messi who confronted him in front of the squad, using words like Bartomeu cheated on the players.
And if that was not enough, it came out that the board had paid a social media company a million Euros to smear the images of players like Messi, Gerard Pique and former legends like Carles Puyol and Pep Guardiola. Bartomeu denied the allegations but the truth was already out.
And after all that, came the 8-2 defeat, which comes after the board's failure to sign players who could give them the x-factor and which might have spared Messi off the heavy workload.
All of this resulted in Messi's decision to leave. But him wanting to leave is only the start of the chaos. The fans are already protesting outside Camp Nou and things will only get uglier.
If he leaves, where to?
Barcelona presidential candidate Victor Font has already said that the slightest hope of keeping Messi at Barcelona is by making Bartomeu resign. If that happens and Messi stays, then there's no more point stretching this.
But if that does not happen, there are two possibilities - one, Messi goes for free winning the legal battle, two, Messi has a release clause of 700 million Euros.
The latter looks quite an impossible task, even if it was a normal world. In a post-Covid world, it's implausible for a club to spend that much on anyone, let alone a 33-year old. Manchester City has been rumoured to be ready with 300 million Euros, but that is still just speculation. So, if Barcelona do not terminate his contract or negotiate for a lower price, Messi will have to wait a year to leave.
But if the contract is terminated and Messi can leave for free, how many clubs can really afford him? Messi costs over a hundred million Euros a year and only Manchester City, PSG and Inter Milan are names that can be heard. Inter might lose out in a battle of finances and PSG too, with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe already in their ranks, but City, they can. And Guardiola, under whom Messi was most successful, is there too and it looks like a match made in heaven, or a second heaven probably.
This is a horrible time to be a Barcelona fan, everything is going south. But if Messi wants to leave, then it is what it is. All they can do is hope that the boy who they saw become their greatest player ever on their turf, decides to stay home.