Manchester City are convinced Lionel Messi would forgo any other approach to join them if Barcelona soften their stance and decide to negotiate the sale of the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, sources have told ESPN.
Paris Saint-Germain have also expressed interest in signing Messi, and sources told ESPN that Neymar spoke to them on the phone on Thursday about the possibility of a move to France.
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Despite this, City remain the most likely destination for the Argentina international if he manages to force his departure from Camp Nou, while sources told ESPN that Messi has requested a meeting with Barca’s board to facilitate its exit.
City are aware that reaching any deal will be extremely difficult due to Barca’s reluctance to sell and the cost of the operation. However, they are hopeful that the Catalan club will eventually give in and agree to let Messi go for a reasonable price, given his desire to leave.
Sources told ESPN that Messi called coach Pep Guardiola last week to tell him he wanted to leave Barcelona after nearly 20 years at the club. There is still no deal between City and Messi but the club speak almost daily with his father, Jorge, and are working on a number of possible formulas.
The first, as reported by ESPN earlier this week, would see Messi sign a three-year contract with City, with the possibility of then moving to partner club New York City FC for another two years at the end of his career.
Another idea on the table is an initial two-year agreement with the possibility of an additional year based on a number of different goals. Other options were also discussed. Messi’s father is still in Argentina, but is expected to fly to Europe as soon as negotiations accelerate.
The city knows that the option of signing Messi for free is far off. Messi has told Barca he is executing a clause in his deal that would allow him to leave for nothing, but the La Liga side insist the clause expired in June.
As reported by ESPN earlier this week, City are reportedly ready to pay between € 100m and € 150m, which is significantly lower than the € 700m buyout clause in their contract, which expires in June 2021.
City are said to be willing to include some players in any potential deal, but sources close to the club have stressed that Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez will not be used as a heavyweight in potential transfers this summer.
Messi is due to visit Barca’s training ground on Sunday for a coronavirus test before the start of the pre-season under new coach Ronald Koeman on Monday. It is not yet known if he will show up.
Barca were first informed by Messi that he wanted to exit on Tuesday. President Josep Maria Bartomeu revealed on Thursday that he would step down if that’s what it took for Messi to turn around on his decision.
Bartomeu has said he will step down and leave the board responsible until the March elections if Messi publicly says Bartomeu is the problem. There has been no response from Messi’s camp, but sources have told ESPN that Messi will talk about why he wants to leave at some point. However, there are no plans to say anything immediately.
Messi’s desire to leave is rooted in issues on the pitch – particularly Champions League failures since 2015 – and off the pitch, where he has clashed with the board over a number of issues .