That ticking clock you might be able to hear hovering over world soccer is the countdown to the end of Lionel Messi's Barcelona contract. At midnight on Wednesday the greatest soccer player in the history of the world will officially become a free agent. Although the details of soccer contracts are frequently hidden from the public, Messi's was leaked revealing that the Barcelona superstar made a whopping $674 million of four years.
This is the second year in a row that Messi's contract status is in the news. Last season he controversially tried to exercise a release clause that would allow him to terminate his deal one year early, but Barcelona contended that the clause wasn't valid, threatened to take the case to court, and ultimately kept their star around for the final year of his deal. But now that year has run its course, and the question is what's next for Lionel Messi.
Messi will probably re-sign with Barcelona
While it's true that Messi could go anywhere, the overwhelming likelihood is that he's be back with the only club he's played for in his career. Barcelona's new President campaigned for the position specifically on the grounds that he could bring back Messi. The two sides are talking about a two-year deal. There are also rumors that the deal could extend beyond that, complete with a trip to Inter Miami in MLS for Messi to wind down his career followed by a return to Barcelona in some front office capacity. Inter's owner Jorge Mas is "optimistic" that the Argentine superstar will one day play for his club, and Messi recently bought property in the city, further fueling speculation.
But Barcelona are struggling with finances
The biggest question mark surrounding a Messi contract extension has always been whether or not the Catalan side could find a way to pay Messi what he could surely make elsewhere, while also being able to spend enough to put a team capable of winning titles around him. The team's financial woes have been well documented, with a team already struggling under the weight of its heavy spending further gutted by the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. The club's huge debt load of €1.2 billion has meant that the side has had to unload the salaries of veterans like Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic over the last several years while struggling to replace their productivity.
This summer Barcelona's transfer activity has largely been limited to free agents who do not require a transfer fee to acquire but even there they've been limited. They club signed Memphis Depay to add creativity and athleticism to their attack, but also found themselves outbid for Georginio Wijnaldum by Paris Saint-Germain. Messi remains the best in the world, and as long as he's healthy and productive Barcelona will be one of the best teams in Europe, but gone are the days when the club could effortlessly surround him with superstars like Suarez and Neymar. Instead Barcelona will likely to be a team that has Messi supported by a mix of aging players like Sergio Busquets and Pique and young up-and-coming talent like midfielder Frenkie de Jong, fullback Sergino Dest and winger Ansu Fati.
Can PSG or Man City still make things interesting?
Aside from Barcelona, only two other clubs have seemed to be serious contenders for Messi. Last year Manchester City were lurking, waiting in the wings for Messi to force his way out of Camp Nou. They were prepared to pay a king's ransom to reunite Messi with coach Pep Guardiola. But, after a season where they comfortablly won the Premier League and made the Champions League final without acquiring the superstar, the English club seems to have eased off the chase.
PSG on the other hand have made no secret of their desire to bring Messi to the French capital. The club repeatedly refused to rule out moving for Messi and Neymar mused about reuniting with his former Barcelona teammate. Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino even reminisced about how his countryman had almost played at Espanyol when he managed there. All of which is to say that if somehow the extension with Barcelona goes pear shaped before there's a signature on the dotted line, it will likely be PSG making a push to make a shocking move. It's not likely, but nothing is final until it's final.