Lionel Messi won't be suiting up to ply his trade in Major League Soccer for LA Galaxy any time soon, according to the club's manager.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto downplayed the idea of his fellow Argentinian moving to California, per Katia Castorena of ESPN Deportes (h/t ESPN): "There is nothing to tell. Obviously [everybody would like to have Messi] and the fact of having a certain relationship with him also brings about the possibility but there has been no approach recently."
Rumours that Barcelona attacking talisman Messi would swap life at the Camp Nou for a stint in MLS gained some traction thanks to a report from Radio Continental (h/t ESPN). The station detailed how Barros Schelotto spoke to Messi's father a year ago about a potential deal.
At one time, Messi, whose contract expires in summer 2021, finishing his career with the Blaugrana was simply taken as a given. Things have changed, though, and Messi's future has become the source of intense speculation within the context of several issues surrounding the club.
First, the forward had a public falling-out with sporting director Eric Abidal regarding comments the Frenchman made on Instagram. Messi has also been caught up in the scandal growing around Barca's relationship with I3 Ventures.
The club has been accused of directing the contracted marketing consultant to change opinions toward prominent members of the club on social media. It was to be a campaign underpinned by negative posts aimed at Messi and Gerard Pique, among others, according to SER Catalunya and La Llotja del Que t'hi Jugues (h/t TalkSport's Josh Fordham).
Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said Barca did hire I3 Ventures but denied allegations regarding the negative posts. Even so, Messi described the situation as "strange" during an interview with Mundo Deportivo (h/t Sport).
These events create the impression all is not right at Barcelona, particularly in relation to the club's star player. Yet Messi has moved to assure people he remains content to prolong his career in La Liga.
"(But) I have also said many times that I would like the club to be in good shape, for the fans to be happy with the team we have, for there to be a winning project and for us to continue being candidates to win trophies like we always were. I want to win another Champions League, I want to keep winning league titles."
Messi remains central to Barca fulfilling those ambitions. He is still the most important player in the squad, a status he is underlining even during a trying campaign.
The 32-year-old has scored 19 times in all competitions while also being a reliable goal-creator:
Messi has stayed consistent even during a season where events on the pitch have been as fractious as those off of it. Barca have already replaced one manager after ditching Ernesto Valverde in favour of Quique Setien in January.
Injuries up front have also left Messi to plough a lone furrow in attack. Ousmane Dembele is out for the season with a ruptured tendon in his hamstring, while knee surgery has ruled Luis Suarez out until April.
The absence of Dembele and Suarez have been compounded by summer import Antoine Griezmann taking his time to get up to speed following his move from Atletico Madrid. Fortunately for Barca, there have been signs Griezmann is starting to get comfortable:
Even so, the strain of so much upheaval does appear to have crept into Messi's performances:
A few games without a goal would be concerning for some players, but Messi's brilliance can almost be taken for granted. He will quickly refocus and remain the catalyst who determines whether Setien's team overturns a one-point deficit to overhaul rivals Real Madrid and retain the league title.
Whether Barca are loaded with enough marquee talent to win the UEFA Champions League this season remains open for debate. What is certain is that beyond this campaign, Barca have to do more to support the most gifted player of his generation.
It will demand hiring elite managers, getting more stable leadership at the top and making smarter use of the transfer market. Only then would Messi would be truly rewarded for sticking around.