With Barcelona looking set to finish the season without any major honours, prized asset Lionel Messi, despite contributing a ridiculous return of 40 goals in 43 games, has appeared distracted on the big occasions, and rumours have surfaced that his contract talks have broken down.
In eight miserable days in April, Barca suffered elimination from the Champions League quarter-finals with a 2-1 aggregate defeat to Atletico Madrid, were beaten by bitter rivals Real Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey and lost crucial ground in the La Liga title race after a 1-0 loss to Granada.
The tragic death of former coach Tito Vilanova has added considerably to the sombre feeling surrounding the club at present.
Should Messi want out now, then it is clear that the number of clubs who have the sufficient distinction and financial muscle to lure the Argentine maestro can be counted on one hand (I’m omitting Real Madrid, who would seem an altogether unlikely prospect).
Perhaps the most obvious destination would be Bayern Munich, where Messi could reunite with former Barca boss Pep Guardiola – under whom the Argentina international forward won 12 titles. But Bayern are busy dismantling their main rivals in Borussia Dortmund and with it the domestic competition, having coaxed first Mario Gotze and now Robert Lewandowski to Bavaria. With the Spanish clubs showing supremacy over their German counterparts in the Champions League this season, the Bundesliga would seem a step down for Messi.
Paris has its lure and Paris Saint-Germain could be on the brink of big things in Europe, but, much like in Germany, the domestic competition in France leaves much to be desired. Moreover, the Ligue 1 club look, along with Manchester City, destined for sanctions now that the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rulings have kicked in. You would have to hope that, for the sake of the FFP rules being shown to have some impact, both clubs will tread a little carefully this summer, meaning that Messi is a luxury they can’t afford.
That leaves the prospect of Messi following in a new boss at Manchester United to kick-start the re-emergence of the Red Devils as a footballing force. After all, United did attempt a last-minute bid for Gareth Bale last summer and will clearly be willing to spend at the end of this season.
Old Trafford would seem a more likely destination for the Argentine than Stamford Bridge, where former Madrid coach Jose Mourinho is in charge. However, Messi has always struggled against English clubs in Europe and a move to the more physical Premier League wouldn’t do any favours to his style of football.
For now, then, it seems far more likely that the ‘Little Magician’ will sign a record new contract at Barcelona before setting off in pursuit of World Cup glory with Argentina in Brazil this summer.