You can imagine Barcelona’s directors cackling like Vincent Price at the end of Thriller as they signed off on the $309 million release clause in Lionel Messi’s contract last May.
“No one will be able to afford that,” they probably laughed, lighting cigars. “Messi will be ours… FOREVER!”
That was before the English Premier League signed a new TV deal worth precisely 1.5 gazillion pounds, though. (That converts to approximately 3.8 bazillion dollars.)
Hence, with Financial Fair Play looking about as toothless as a three-month old baby, the idea of a club meeting that release clause and Messi moving on from Barcelona does not sound quite as crazy as it did a couple of months ago.
Of course, Paris Saint-Germain is a possibility. But the TV deal and the Glazers’ newfound willingness to spend absurd amounts of money on players suddenly mean that Manchester United could also be Messi contenders, as well as Manchester City and Chelsea.
And with the forthcoming TV cash, it’s not going to be long before we see a footballer earning $500,000 a week. So offering the 27-year-old an eye-popping wage that’s higher than Cristiano Ronaldo’s wouldn’t be a problem once the release clause is met.
There’s also emotional factors, with persistent rumors of a rift between Messi and Barca coach Luis Enrique, some non-committal statements from the player and the sense that the club’s no longer quite the force it was, even if they’re currently top of La Liga.
Even Barcelona officials are now contributing to a climate of, if not uncertainty, then at least intrigue. “I believe it’s very difficult that Messi will leave Barça but at times in football strange things happen,” international sporting director Ariedo Braida told Esport 3. “Now with these clubs that have so much money like [Manchester] City, certain amounts don’t seem to have a value. In football things happen that appear impossible but I hope he will remain.”
So while the door’s not wide open, it’s not locked shut, either. Unlike 18 months ago, when it was closed, bolted and guarded by mean-looking men in suits wearing earpieces and sunglasses. In November 2013, Messi said his “intention was to stay at Barcelona forever”.
But only two months ago, he said he was “not sure where I will be next year.”
Really what this means is that, this summer, we can expect at least one story per day outlining which cities Messi has visited and which clubs’ outgoing telephone records list numbers in Barcelona. Helicopters may even be involved. Get excited.