5 Reasons Why Lionel Messi Could Leave Barcelona
Could Lionel Messi actually leave Barcelona?
If the economics of football have taught us anything, it's that every player is always for sale, no matter his profile or past accomplishments.
Of course, some transactions are grander than others, and no doubt the transfer of Messi would be the biggest piece of business in the history of the sport.
He's already hinting that it could happen.
According to Marca, the 27-year-old admitted in a Tuesday interview that "sometimes everything doesn't quite go as planned."
He added: "I'm taking things day-by-day at the moment, doing my best to put together a solid season and help Barcelona do well so we can win all the titles that we want to win, that we're trying to win, and that's the reality. Then we'll see. There's a lot of movement in football."
Messi is under contract until 2019, which means any move away from Camp Nou would have to be triggered by a lucrative bid for his services.
But would he sign off on a switch if it came right down to it?
Following are five reasons why he just might.
Deteriorating Relationship with Barcelona Board
Johan Cruyff has never shied away from expressing his opinions.
In an April interview with El Mundo, as per Inside Spanish Football, the former Barcelona player and manager remarked that "those who know least are those who are making decisions" at Camp Nou—a not-so-veiled critique of the club's board.
"Those who are leading," he went on, "are those who want to take advantage of football as a business."
Interestingly, Cruyff's comments echoed an earlier statement from Lionel Messi, who last December attacked vice-president Javier Faus for "not knowing anything about football," according to the Telegraph.
"Barcelona is the best club in the world and should be represented by the best board members, too," he said. "Senor Faus is someone who doesn't know anything about football and wants to manage Barcelona like a business, which it is not."
After coming to power in 2010, the regime of former president Sandro Rosell made every attempt to distance itself from the previous board of Joan Laporta—steps that included the removal of Cruyff, a Laporta ally, as honorary president.
The change in leadership likely had a thing to do with manager Pep Guardiola's 2012 exit as well, and just last week the now-Bayern Munich boss hinted at his own feelings regarding the current board.
"In principle I won't coach Barca again," he told Mundo Deportivo, as per the Daily Mail.
Read between the lines and his "principle" could very well refer to the club's decision-makers, who are now led by Josep Maria Bartomeu, a one-time vice-president under Rosell.
From there it's not at all difficult to speculate that Messi, too, could leave the club under less-than-ideal terms.
His Tax Situation
In 2013 Lionel Messi and his father Jorge, who manages his affairs, paid €5 million to satisfy the Spanish tax authorities for alleged money owing from the 2007, 2008 and 2009 tax years, according to the BBC.
But Messi, who is alleged to owe an additional €4 million, still faces trial for tax evasion, even though Jorge recently told Cadena COPE, as per Goal, that the four-time Ballon d'Or had "absolutely nothing to do with it."
Given the deteriorating economic situation in Spain, as well as the mounting debt levels of many of the country's clubs, the tax authorities have been zeroing in on football in recent years and, according to Marca, "questioning the way these sports professionals pay their income taxes."
Messi may well be tiring of the witch-hunt, which has already dragged on for some time. A new city, new country and new league—all eager to lay out the welcome mat—would perhaps help to lure him away from his current club.
The Neymar Saga
Former Barcelona president Sandro Rosell, who inherited a squad already stacked with the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, took particular pride in signing Brazilian superstar Neymar from Santos in 2013.
But the transaction ended up costing him his job.
Having repeatedly stated that Neymar cost just over €57 million, according to the Guardian, it was later revealed that the true price of the forward was more than €86 million.
All the while speculation over the player's wages threatened to destabilise the club, and in January it was reported by various outlets, including ESPN FC, that Neymar's salary perhaps trumped that of Messi.
Rosell resigned his position as the saga dragged on through the winter.
In mid-May the matter was put to bed when Messi agreed a new contract, although he might well have wondered why, if he was Barcelona's best player, he hadn't been treated as such until scandal forced the club's hand.
The Barcelona Squad
When Lionel Messi made his Barcelona debut in 2004, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were entering the primes of their careers.
What followed was a run of success unprecedented in the history of the club that included six Primera Division titles, two Copa del Rey crowns, three European Cups and a pair of FIFA Club World Cup triumphs.
And between 2009 and 2012 the Argentine kept hold of the Ballon d'Or.
But at 34 years of age, Xavi is no longer at the peak of his powers and rarely starts in manager Luis Enrique's side. Iniesta, meanwhile, will turn 31 in the spring. By then right-back Dani Alves will be 32, and the club's failure to strengthen the centre-back position has only served to diminish a once-tangible sense of invincibility.
Quite simply, the current Barcelona team is the poorest Messi has been a part of since his promotion to the senior setup, even with the likes of Neymar and Luis Suarez part of an expensive, if occasionally fumbling, attacking corps.
Not that it's a particularly bad team in the broader context of La Liga or even Europe as a whole. It's just that the Barcelona of Xavi and Iniesta, in which Messi thrived, was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon and one that he'll never see replicated at Camp Nou. There's simply no replacing players of that calibre.
With former manager Pep Guardiola already gone, and long-time captain Carles Puyol retired, Messi may see the declines of Xavi and Iniesta as the symbolic end of an era.
For the club as well as himself.
The Pressure to Carry Barcelona on His Shoulders
When Barcelona come up short—and coming up short in the Catalan capital is as much stylistically based as results-based—Lionel Messi takes most of the blame.
If he doesn't create a moment of magic, he's criticised; if he tries to do too much, he's criticised; if he finds the back of the net but not enough to win the match, he's criticised.
It's disparagement that, according to team-mate Javier Mascherano, is unwarranted.
"Criticism of Messi, on several occasions, has been excessive," the 30-year-old told Tot Sant Cugat in October, as per the Daily Mail. "We are accustomed to unimaginable things that only he can do, and when he doesn't score a goal it doesn't mean he's not good."
He added: "Everything Barca have achieved in recent years has been thanks to players like Messi, Iniesta and Xavi."
Only, as described in the previous slide, Iniesta and Xavi are no longer the forces they once were. And Messi, as a result, is carrying more of the burden—carrying Barcelona on his shoulders.
Is it a responsibility he wants?
Perhaps, although last winter's Neymar scandal and resulting wage dispute won't have served to inspire leadership ambitions on his part.
Messi often appears an awkward leader at best, and the pressure he currently faces to take Barcelona through a rebuilding process is one he may prefer to do without.