Barcelona has granted superstar forward Lionel Messi permission to sit out Saturday's La Liga finale against Eibar to rest ahead of the Copa America tournament with Argentina, which kicks off in mid-June.
ESPN's Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens reported Friday the decision means Messi, who's once again become the focus of summer transfer rumors, may have already played his last match with the Spanish club.
Duncan Wright of The Sun reported Sunday that Premier League giant Manchester City, which showed interest in the Argentine international last summer, is once again at the forefront of the discussions. Wright reported Messi would be open to a one-year, $35 million contract with an option for a second season.
Chelsea, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain are among the other clubs linked to a possible Messi pursuit, but staying at Camp Nou remains the "most likely" outcome for the 33-year-old Barca legend, per Wright.
It'll be an unfortunate turn of events if Messi's Barcelona career comes to an end without a proper sendoff, especially since supporters have been barred from attendance for over a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet, a departure wouldn't come as a surprise since the six-time Ballon d'Or winner told Goal in September 2020 he sought an exit last offseason but a dispute about a contract clause prevented him from leaving.
"I told the club, including the president, that I wanted to go. I've been telling him that all year. I believed it was time to step aside," Messi said in September.
The attacking sensation remained a dominant force for Barcelona throughout the 2020-21 term. He recorded 35 goals and 13 assists in 41 appearances between La Liga and the Champions League.
While Barca captured the Copa del Rey title in April, with Messi scoring twice in the final, the club fell short in its main objectives this season. It sits third in the La Liga table heading into the final match and was eliminated by PSG in the UCL Round of 16.
The departure of Messi would usher in a new era, but club president Joan Laporta is confident of reaching an agreement on a new contract.
"Leo is the best player in the world and has a very strong bond with the club. I'm convinced he wants to stay, and we'll do everything in our hands to make sure he does," Laporta said in April.
The situation should have more clarity between now and mid-July while Messi is back home trying to win the Copa America title with co-host Argentina.