Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi reportedly weighed up the option of a summer switch to the Chinese Super League, but European titans such as Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are still in the race, according to a Spanish journalist.
Eduardo Inda appeared on Spanish television show El Chiringuito de Jugones this week and noted just how close Messi was to leaving the Camp Nou (h/t Mikael McKenzie of the Daily Express):
"A few months ago Messi was a little down and was thinking seriously before the World Cup in Russia to go to China.
"They tell me that he would have received offers of €150 million (£134m) per season.
"Despite this, his intention is to stay, although he has three offers in case he decides to leave the Barca team.
"City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain all love him."
The big-spending elite of China might have capitalised on Messi's contract situation and the fact his current deal will expire next summer. Goal's Ben Hayward questioned at the start of the season why the extension hadn't been signed:
Ben Hayward @bghayward
Messi won't leave. It's all done and the signing is just protocol. Whatever. Just get it signed. How hard can it be?2017-9-2 10:45:26
The bond between Barca and Messi dates back to 2001, when he first arrived in Catalonia from Rosario, Argentina, but the offer of a £134 million annual wage—roughly £2.5 million per week—could tempt any star.
Another summer transfer window passed by in which Messi was linked with the Camp Nou exit, but staying has proved a fruitful decision as Barca lead La Liga by four points and are top of their UEFA Champions League group.
ESPN's Chris Jones provided quotes from Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who reassured fans regarding Messi's commitment in May: "There are no doubts. The marriage between Messi and Barcelona will continue."
Despite Bartomeu's stance, however, Yahoo's Andrew Gaffney hinted at the impact La Liga could feel if its leading stars depart, and the interest of well-backed teams like Manchester City and PSG is a major threat in that regard:
Andrew Gaffney @GaffneyVLC
Leo Messi's contract is still yet to be signed, or officially confirmed, as the club prepares to offer him yet another deal. Cristiano Ronaldo is reportedly upset and has told Real Madrid he wants to leave. If they both go, how does #LaLiga recover? https://t.co/LKbLTz1nUz2017-11-15 12:35:51
After all, few would have envisioned Neymar's £200 million switch to the Parc des Princes being facilitated so swiftly, and the same might still be said for Messi if he's tempted by the right offer.
Messi will also have more substantial business interests in China with the 2019 opening of the Messi Experience Park in Nanjing, per Marca's Xavi Hernandez, but even the offer of eye-watering wages isn't likely to tempt him to south-east Asia.