Lionel Messi has been synonymous with Barcelona for his entire professional career. Whether at some point he wears the uniform of another professional club remains to be seen, but what has transpired over the last week has made it feel like there was at least a chance in the future it could come true, which would shift the landscape of European soccer in a major way.
In the end, the expectation is for him to stay but that hasn't stopped any speculation, fueled by the fact that his current contract expires in the summer of 2021. Here's everything to know about the situation.
Controversial comments from Eric Abidal
This week, aside from being eliminated in the Copa del Rey, Barcelona's sporting director Eric Abidal ruffled some feathers with comments that prompted a strong response from Messi. The former defender, who was also a teammate of Messi's, accused the players of not working hard enough under coach Ernesto Valverde,.
Abidal toldthat the players "were not satisfied nor worked hard" under Valverde and that there was an "internal communication issue."
That didn't set well with the club captain.
Messi's strong, defensive response
Messi took to his Instagram to respond without citing Abidal but referenced his position.
"Honestly, I don't like doing these things, but I think everyone should be responsible for their tasks and take ownership of their decisions," Messi wrote.
"The players should own up to what happens on the pitch and additionally, we are the first ones to admit when we weren't good.
"The sporting directors should also take their share of the blame and above all else own up to the decisions they make.
"Lastly, I think that when one speaks about the players, they should give names because if not they're dirtying everyone and feeding things that are said and are not true."
Messi certainly didn't seem to care for the comments that implied that all the players neglected to work hard. After all, the team captured another La Liga title last season despite losing the Copa del Rey final despite getting bounced by Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals in stunning fashion.
Guardiola speaks out regarding Messi rumors
Messi is not the type to speak out and criticize anyone on the team, so his comments this week sparked speculation all over Europe that he could be inclined to eventually leave the club, putting fans of such clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United, PSG and Juventus on alert. It doesn't hurt that Messi's contract expires in 2021.
If he were to leave, Manchester City seems like the most logical destination due to the club's ability to fund a player of Messi's stature. Not to mention, City has a coach in Pep Guardiola with an established relationship with Messi. He coached him before and won every trophy in the past.
Guardiola spoke to reporters on Friday before Man City's match against West Ham on Sunday and said that Messi leaving Barca is unrealistic dream. Guardiola shot down any speculation of Messi moving to City or any other club.
"He will stay there. That's my wish," Guardiola said, according to BBC.
"I think he will finish his career there."
If he ever leaves Barca, where is he likely to play?
Messi has long suggested that he might be interested in ending his career in Argentina while playing for his native club Newell's of Rosario. Just two years ago he said he was sure that Barcelona would be his only European club, adding that he has always wanted to play in the Argentine first division and that it would only be at Newell's.
To make that happen, he would have to take what can only be viewed as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, pay cut any player has ever taken in the modern era of the sport to facilitate a move. That would be for the love of the club and would be interesting to see, though it feels like what's most likely is that he ends his playing career in Spain.
The 32-year-old joined Barca as a youth product in 2001 after six years at Newell's as a youth player.
Barca goes to Real Betis on Sunday in La Liga play.