The possibility of Lionel Messi playing in the Premier League is no longer just far-fetched fodder reserved for the shadiest corners of social media.
Barcelona confirmed to the Associated Press' Rob Harris on Tuesday that Messi has requested to leave the Catalan club.
Breaking: Barcelona confirms that Lionel Messi has told the club he wants to leave— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) August 25, 2020
That sound you heard is every top club in Europe and England going through their couch cushions to find every bit of spare change. Even at 33 years old, the best player in the world doesn't become available very often, and Messi should have no shortage of suitors who, at the very least, will pick up the phone.
But even the spare change might not be enough to actually afford him.
This is Messi's wage package at Barcelona according to Football Leaks: 60.395.769 euro basic yearly wages (£988.000 a week), £9.100.000 per year on image rights, £13.000.000 a year on possible bonuses plus signing on & loyalty fee (£120.000.000 over 5 years).— Kristof Terreur 📰🎥 (@HLNinEngeland) August 25, 2020
Quite a load. pic.twitter.com/LOaUoogZuq
So, could Messi really come to England after spending the entirety of his professional career in Spain? Whether he's able to leave on a free transfer -- Messi reportedly believes he can -- or Barcelona sells him for anything less than a release clause that reportedly costs more than the GDP of some countries, only the richest of megaclubs would be able to afford the Argentine legend.
It's Manchester or bust for Messi in the Premier League, and he's far more likely to wear sky blue than red.
Manchester City makes a whole lot of sense. City have the Premier League's richest owner (Sheikh Mansour) and are managed by the man with whom Messi won a boatload of trophies (Pep Guardiola) at Barcelona. The UEFA Champions League is the one competition City haven't won, and Messi's brilliance in Europe -- he's second only to Cristiano Ronaldo in all-time goals -- could be what gets the club over the hump.
Then again, Manchester United surely would say the same thing about closing the gap with their cross-city rivals. This is, after all, the best player in the world we're talking about here. United were England's highest revenue-generating club in Deloitte's rankings from the 2019-20 season, and Forbes last pegged United as England's most valuable in 2019. Of course, United reported in May that their debt rose to nearly £430 million pounds, and their rumored transfer targets are decidedly younger than Messi. Full, in-stadium attendance isn't an option for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the lack of matchday revenue could make signing Messi too pricey for a club as rich as United.
As for the rest of the Premier League's "Big Six," it would be shocking to see Messi end up at Anfield or anywhere in London.
Fenway Sports Group's Boston Red Sox traded Mookie Betts -- perhaps baseball's Ronaldo to Mike Trout's Messi -- when faced with the prospect of paying him, and owner John Henry wants Liverpool to be similarly self-sustaining. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is loaded, but are the Blues gonna spend even more than the nine digits they already have/are set to? Messi playing for Tottenham Hotspur would be José Mourinho's ultimate revenge on rival Guardiola, and Messi joining Arsenal would make top ex-manager Arsene Wenger's oft-trolled efforts to sign the star a fittingly bonkers reality for 2020, but Messi heading to North London is only slightly likelier than him suiting up for North Dakota's semi-professional side.
City are the only club that check all the boxes to make the dream of Messi in England a reality. They have the financial might, the Guardiola connection and, reportedly, the intense desire to make it work under Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. However much those actually matter after City's slap on the wrist for previous violations, of course, is yet to be seen.
Even with Messi's now-confirmed desire to leave Barcelona, it'll be another thing entirely to see him actually do so. If the world's best player is really going to come to the world's richest league, only one destination truly makes sense.
If Lionel Messi leaves Barcelona, Man City only Premier League option originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area