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Lionel Messi's contract explained: Could he leave to Man City, Man Utd or anywhere else for free?

4:00 PM GMT+4 21/03/2020
Lionel Messi Real Madrid Barcelona
With his future at Camp Nou in doubt after a public spat with Eric Abidal, is it true that he could leave the club for free this summer?

Lionel Messi? Leaving Barcelona on a free transfer? Or better yet – signing Messi on a free transfer? Get out of town.

However absurd it might sound, there have been real concerns in recent months that Messi might not want to renew his contract at Camp Nou, with his current deal expiring in 2021.

It has also been revealed recently that Messi could be able to walk away from the club due to a certain clause in his current contract, and that he could be a free agent this summer. 

So could he leave Barcelona and join a Premier League side such as Manchester City or Manchester United, who are rumoured to be exploring his availability?

When does Messi's contract run out?

Messi's current contract expires in June 2021, but it reportedly includes a clause that allows him to leave at the end of any given season should he allow Barcelona a one-month notice in advance.

This has, naturally, caused wide speculation that he is set to leave Barcelona and join a non-Spanish side for free, with Manchester City rumoured to be among one of the clubs "monitoring" his situation.

Of course, the link between Messi and Man City manager Pep Guardiola is obvious – Guardiola coached Messi at Barcelona for several years during some of the club's most successful, trophy-laden periods.

Messi has been linked with a move to the Etihad in the past, but the club has never made a genuine attempt to sign him – acknowledging his unique bond with the Catalans.

But this could change following his public row with Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal.

Guardiola dismissed such speculation in February and played down the link, telling reporters that he wishes for Messi to remain at Camp Nou.

“He is a player from Barcelona and he will stay there, that’s my wish for him to stay there,” he said.

“I’m not going to talk about players playing for other clubs. I think he will finish his career there, that’s my wish.”

Messi has also been linked with a move to Man Utd, and from the standpoint of the Red Devils, signing him for free would simply be too good to be true.

United have struggled to create up front since an injury to Marcus Rashford, although new arrival Bruno Fernandes impressed before the coronavirus postponed the Premier League season in mid-March.

What happened between Messi and Abidal?

The Argentina star has spent 18 years with Barcelona, though a recent public feud with sporting director Abidal has led to some doubts around his future.

Abidal was publicly critical of the Barcelona players' attitudes and performances under former manager Ernesto Valverde, telling Sport: "A lot of players were not happy and did not work much and there was also a problem with internal communication.

"The relationship between the coach and dressing room was always good, but there are things that as an ex-player I can sense. I told the club what I thought and we had to make a decision." 

Messi was not happy with Abidal's comments, and told his former team-mate to either name names or not say anything in public. "I honestly do not like to do this kind of thing but I think that everyone has to be responsible for their job and take responsibility for their decisions," the Argentine wrote on Instagram.

"Players are responsible for what happens on the field, we are also the first to acknowledge when we don't play well. 

"Those in charge of sporting direction should also face up to their responsibilities and above all take charge of their own decisions.

"Lastly, I think that when you talk about players, you should give names because otherwise you are tainting everyone's name and feeding rumours that spread and are not true."

The fallout between the two has, then, put doubts on the idea of Messi retiring at Barcelona, prompting speculation that he is set to leave at the end of the season to seek a new challenge elsewhere.

But again, perhaps their argument was only a blip, and Messi could still very well see out the rest of his playing days in Barcelona.