Lionel Messi "has been thinking of leaving" Barcelona, according to Spanish football expert Guillem Balague.
In his latest Sky Sports column, Balague responded to a question over whether Messi would be "foolish to ever leave Barcelona" by indicating that the Argentinian superstar is closer than ever to the exit door at the Camp Nou:
"I think it would be [foolish], and I know that basically he has been thinking of leaving in a way that he had never thought before. But that does not mean he will leave. However, as Johan Cruyff says, there reaches a day when you have to say yes or no, and I think if he is asked to leave, he will say no."
Wild Messi exit rumours are nothing new despite his 15-year association with Barca—he has previously been linked with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, per Rhys Turrell of the Daily Star—and Balague clearly believes there is a possibility the 28-year-old could leave the Catalan giants at some point.
Bleacher Report's Dean Jones and Sam Tighe recently discussed the possibility that he could be tempted to re-join former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola when he takes over at Manchester City in the summer:
However, given how successful Barcelona have been recently, it would seem an odd time for Messi to call it a day at the Camp Nou.
He is still very much in the prime of his career and could be on for a second consecutive treble win this season after Barca claimed the La Liga title, Copa del Rey and Champions League last term.
Messi is currently part of arguably the best attacking trio of all time—alongside Luis Suarez and Neymar—and could have no better prospects at any other club.
Furthermore, per Turrell's piece, as recently as January he stated his ambition to finish his career at Barcelona.
Messi's current contract with Barca runs until 2018, per Sky Sports.
There is little chance that the Blaugrana hierarchy would consider selling him as he is an icon of the club and scores goals with staggering consistency, per the Champions League:
Champions League @ChampionsLeague
For the eighth season in a row, Lionel Messi has scored at least 20 goals in the Liga for Barcelona. #UCL https://t.co/94Ha8srZGL2016-3-7 14:19:58
The only scenario in which Messi would likely leave Barca is if the player himself looked to force a move.
While it is possible he may want to join up with Guardiola at City, it still seems highly unlikely and, as noted by Balague, just because he might have been thinking about leaving, that does not mean he will.
Elsewhere, 18-year-old Rennes star Ousmane Dembele has expressed his desire to play for Barca, per beIN Sports (via Chisanga Malata in the Daily Star):
It would be a dream to play for Barcelona.
The Spanish league is really competitive. I like the German league, too, it’s really attacking.
I’m inspired by Neymar and Messi. They’re great players.
I try to follow their games and copy what they do in training.
The French forward has been linked with a number of top European clubs after an impressive breakout season in Ligue 1, including Chelsea, Arsenal and Juventus, per Get French Football News.
He has netted nine times and provided three assists for Rennes in 17 league appearances this term, per WhoScored.com. And it looks as though Barca will have the edge in the inevitable scrap to sign Dembele this summer.