Why Manchester City believe Messi really COULD leave Barcelona

The four-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked with a move to the Premier League, with the Etihad Stadium outfit continuing to lay the groundwork for a sensational transfer

GOALBy Sam Lee & Paul Clennam

It would be the dream signing for any club on the planet, the type of mammoth deal joked about by fans from Altrincham to Zaragoza. Like winning the lottery, it is such a fanciful, idealistic ambition that millions of people spend a few fleeting moments of their day wondering how things would change if they were ever to get lucky enough. Most know they never will.

But in Lionel Messi, as fanciful as it may sound to some, opportunity could in fact knock in the coming seasons. And the wagons of Europe's richest and finest are circling.

Manchester United and Chelsea, for two, have been credited with interest and enquiries, as have the likes of Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich.

It is Manchester City, though, who believe they lead the way should Messi ever come to depart the Nou Camp. Such is the complexity and delicacy of the transfer, many different things would have to fall into place for it to happen, but the powerbrokers at City are ready and waiting to pounce.

It is understood that high-profile City officials held an informal meeting with Jorge Messi, Lionel’s father, in Sao Paulo as news first emerged that Barca were plotting a move for Neymar. Messi’s camp were concerned about the ramifications of the deal – could the two play together? Who will be the star of the show? - and City were keen to explore the lay of the land.

City then, perhaps mischievously, launched their own move for Neymar, 12 months ahead of Barca’s planned bid. The Catalans, in turn, accelerated their efforts and the Brazilian prodigy and Messi were thrust into the same spotlight.

Neymar, of course, has been nothing but reverential towards Messi ever since arriving at Camp Nou, and the two, alongside Luis Suarez, have enjoyed great success together. City would have to wait a little longer.

It would take a huge shift in Barcelona’s political landscape for Messi to leave. It is understood he would one day be open to a big move away, most likely to England, but there is the not inconsiderable matter of his legacy in Catalunya at stake. An acrimonious split is not on Messi’s agenda.

Any Barca president would also be loath to allow the club’s greatest ever player to walk away on his watch.But the Spanish state’s ongoing tax case against the Messis could prove to be the smoking gun. Barcelona fans, perhaps typical of Spanish football theatre, believe dark forces are behind the decision to pursue not only Jorge Messi but Lionel, too.

The player himself is known to be unhappy with the situation. Even if the chances of going to jail are minimal, he will be on trial next year unless he admits the charge of evading €4m in tax.

The handful of clubs that could afford to tempt Messi – who, according to a Mundo Deportivo report this week, earns more than double Neymar and Suarez at €22m per year – are circling the wagons. Even a release clause of €250m has not deterred them.

Real Madrid have tried and failed (at the earliest possible stages) to sign Messi on several occasions. Florentino Perez’s enquiries never make it past the first firm ‘no’. No doubt United would be interested – they’ve already tried to lever Neymar from Camp Nou – and Bayern boast the financial might (and potential Adidas backing) to at least explore a move.

But City believe they have put so much groundwork into a future move for Messi – not least when Argentina trained at the club’s Etihad Campus ahead of a friendly against Portugal at Old Trafford last season – that they are right at the front of the queue.

Indeed, it is supposed that PSG chief Nasser Al Khelaifi long ago abandoned his interest in bringing the four-time Ballon d’Or winner to the Parc des Princes after he had learned of City’s efforts from Khaldoon Al Mubarak, and is instead putting all his effort into signing Cristiano Ronaldo.

To veer off towards another long-running rumour, City have of course long been linked with Pep Guardiola. Without going into the ins and outs, it is a fair assumption that Txiki Begiristain, the City sporting director, will have spoken to his old friend, who he chose as Barca coach back in 2008, about the prospect of joining up with him again at the Etihad. The two are friends; informal conversions – at least - about Guardiola’s next move will have taken place.

It is also no stretch to believe that Txiki, as well as Ferran Soriano, who was praised so highly by Al Mubarak and City’s recent annual report, would want to bring the world’s best player to City. Indeed, it has been the club’s dream almost ever since the takeover in 2008.

To pull off such a massive operation (it is once again important to state how vehemently Barca would fight to keep Messi), months, even years, of groundwork makes sense. Since the arrival of Txiki and Ferran, City have carefully planned their moves in advance to ensure negotiations run as smoothly as possible. If Messi is ever on the market, City want to be ready to push the big red button.

So what happens next? Messi, like Ronaldo, is not above dropping a few suggestive hints to the press when he’s unhappy. He did the same around a year ago in an interview back in Argentina.

Friday’s reports that Messi is weighing up his options will do what they are intended to do: put Europe’s very biggest clubs on red alert.

City, as they have been for some time, are primed to make the impossible possible. You never know, they’ve already won the lottery once…