A meeting with new manager Ronald Koeman apparently led Messi to start seriously considering his future. Argentine paper Diario Ole (h/t AS) reported that Koeman informed Messi "that's the end of the privileges" and indicated he would take an "inflexible" approach with the players.
"City know any deal for Messi is complicated but want to be prepared should the option of bringing him arise," the report stated. "Therefore, they're looking into the costs that would be involved if Barca agree to sell for a reasonable price."
Spanish outlet El Pais (via AS) reported in September that Messi's contract included a clause allowing him to opt out at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. However, the clause expired at the end of June and it's unclear whether the deadline was altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic extending the season.
Speculation over Messi's future at the Camp Nou grew in the wake of Barcelona's humiliating 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich. He only has one year left on his contract and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner might want to engineer an exit before that given the scope of the rebuilding job Barca will need to execute.
The Athletic's Dermot Corrigan explained how overhauling the squad will be difficult because the club has numerous veteran stars on sizable contracts, thus turning away potential suitors.
According to Sid Lowe of the Guardian, Barcelona is looking into potentially terminating the contracts of Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Samuel Umtiti, incurring whatever cost is associated with doing so.
By letting Messi go for free, Barca would be forgoing what would be a massive transfer fee, one that could help fund the additions necessary to turn the club's fortunes around.
Having said that, any transfer fee could be so steep that it would rule out the prospect altogether. Llorens and Faez wrote the general feeling is that the combined cost of a fee and Messi's contract would likely be too expensive, even for the richest teams in Europe.
Shedding Messi's wages would at least alleviate some of Barcelona's burden on that front.
This would undoubtedly be a disappointing end to a stellar relationship, but it might be the shock to the system Barca requires to start over.