Lionel Messi following Chelsea and some of their players on Instagram the day that Barcelona went into meltdown was no coincidence.
A player like Messi knows that each and every one of his moves is put under the spotlight, so to do this while he was already being closely scrutinised was clearly deliberate.
Messi had attracted attention earlier in the day for pulling out of the traditional open training session on the eve of Epiphany, with gastroenteritis.
Messi posted on Facebook, per Sport: "I would have liked to have been in the Christmas training session. I never miss it but sometimes there are things you cannot control. I hope the dreams of all the children come true. A hug."
Instead of being the main attraction for the thousands of supporters gathered at the Mini Estadi to watch their heroes train, or visiting hospitals like some of the other players did later in the day, he was at home, following Chelsea on Instagram.
While creating rumours over transfer moves based on a footballer’s social media activity understandably draws eye-rolls from most readers, this time it’s different.
Regardless of whether Messi is going to Chelsea or not, he obviously wanted to kick up a stink on a day in which Barcelona had already devolved into, as Sport labelled it, “Total Crisis.”
So is Messi angling for change internally, at Barcelona, or does he want to try his luck at Chelsea with Jose Mourinho?
There are strong arguments to be made on either side. Let’s start by analysing the chances of him moving to west London.
Messi does not like how he has been used this season. Under Tata Martino last year he was moved out to the right wing for the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Atletico Madrid, and it failed.
Martino wanted Cesc Fabregas to play in the central attacking role, given that Messi and Barcelona had failed to breach Thibaut Courtois’ net in several attempts. Messi put in a lethargic, heartless performance, as the Catalans spluttered to a stop and were kicked out of the competition.
This season, Messi’s been occupying the role on the right a lot, with Luis Suarez handed more of a striker’s berth.
The Argentine has been performing fairly well, if not quite at his best level, but would be happier playing in the false nine role that saw him help Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona become the best club side in history.
Furthermore, it’s not just where he plays, it became a question on Sunday of “if” he plays. Luis Enrique put Messi on the bench for Barcelona’s game against Real Sociedad and some might say he got what he deserved in a 1-0 defeat.
Messi wants to play every match he can. Having been given extra holiday by Enrique, the Argentine would never have expected the coach to leave him out of the side for the next game.
It was a bizarre sight, seeing Messi next to Neymar, Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic on the bench, watching on as Jordi Alba put through his own net and Barcelona fell to defeat.
Plenty of sources say that Messi is enraged with coach Luis Enrique and doesn’t believe in his system or strategy. Marca wrote:
According to Spanish radio station COPE, the Argentine believes that it will not be possible to change the team's current situation with Luis Enrique in the dugout.
Word has also come out from Messi's cohort that the coach makes decisions without guidance from his colleagues and considers himself to be the bee's knees. The Argentine is also said not to understand why the board supports him.
Furthermore, Ramon Besa wrote in El Pais, h/t Dermot Corrigan's ESPN FC analysis of the situation:
Nothing concerns the fans more than the situation of Messi, the only figure who has not been whistled by the crowd. The No. 10 is fed up with losing and does not see victories under Lucho. It is not a problem of players but of play, the way in which the coach tries to win over Messi to make Barcelona improve.
Former Barcelona star Hristo Stoichkov has criticised the club for not treating Messi in the right way.
He told radio station Onda Cero's show Al Primer Toque, h/t ESPN FC: "They have not known how to look after Messi. Tell me any foreign player who has not ended up leaving Barca through the back door."
Then there’s the transfer ban. Barcelona cannot make new signings until January 2016 and thanks to some poor work in the market from freshly departed sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, Barcelona may struggle both this season and next.
From a Chelsea perspective, there are obvious benefits to bringing the best—or second best—player in the world to Stamford Bridge.
For one, he would complete their attacking unit, which seems only to be missing another player who can be as incisive as Eden Hazard. Of course, Messi brings far, far more than that.
Having Cesc Fabregas at the club would be a big help for Messi, particularly because the partners of the two players are close friends.
Two of Chelsea’s sponsors, Adidas and Turkish Airlines—who will be the shirt sponsors next season—also have strong relationships with Messi and thus a move would be an interesting proposition for both. Perhaps they’d even help to finance it.
But as Sport’s Xavier Ortuno wryly put it: "We've seen signings announced in some strange ways, but for now a follow on Instagram or a like on Facebook is not, as far as we know, contractual."
Despite many good reasons why Messi might be able to move to Chelsea, there are plenty more which contradict them.
The cost of such a deal would be monumental. CIES Football Observatory has published their transfer value estimations for the world's top footballers and Messi is easily top of the list. According to the study, he would set Chelsea back €220 million.
That kind of money isn’t a problem for owner Roman Abramovich, who has pumped far more than that into the club over the years, but it would pose Financial Fair Play issues.
Chelsea would probably have to sell someone like Hazard to bring in Messi, to balance the books, and that would be pointless.
As things stand, along with Neymar, the Belgian is probably the one player out there who could conceivably reach a level close to that of Messi and Ronaldo in the years to come. Hazard is about to turn 24, while Messi will be 28 at the start of next season.
Then there’s the question as to how Messi would fit in at Chelsea. Obviously for a player of that level, the team setup would be adapted and changed, but would the Argentine thrive in a Jose Mourinho system?
Chelsea’s manager isn’t one to bow down to player power either. He’d sooner tear a club apart, like at Real Madrid, than concede defeat to one of his charges.
Messi is renowned for being a controlling presence at Barcelona, the quiet puppet-master. He was previously forced to deny he was a “little dictator” to Sport, h/t Goal.
Coming into a new club, a new environment, would take much of his powers of persuasion away from him.
Furthermore, he may not want to taint his Barcelona legacy by leaving. Despite the various issues that have cropped up from time to time, this latest incident included, Messi is a legend at Barcelona.
If he retires at the club, then any negative incidents will be forgotten and he will be cherished by millions as the greatest player in Barcelona’s history. Should he force his way out, then while it’s still inarguable he’s still the Blaugrana’s finest-ever performer, it would leave a sour taste.
No Barcelona president will want to be seen as the man who let Messi escape either, and if Josep Maria Bartomeu wants to have any chance of being re-elected, stopping any talk of an exit for the No. 10 will be one of his prime objectives.
Before Barcelona let Messi go, they would try other measures to keep him. That would include ditching Enrique, whose fate could be sealed with a few more bad results.
While in the balance of things, a Messi transfer to Chelsea is still unlikely, it’s largely because of the finance of the matter rather than a burning and unquenchable desire to stay at the club.
It would be hard for Messi to leave the club where he has grown up and become the player and man he is today, but it is no longer totally unthinkable. Which is a worry in itself for Barcelona.