Manchester City have emerged as a clear favorite to sign Lionel Messi after the Argentinian superstar told Barcelona that he wants to leave after almost two decades at the club, but City will have to dole out well over $210 million to do so, Forbes estimates.
Lionel Messi announced on Tuesday that he wants to leave Barcelona despite missing a deadline to opt out of his contract, which keeps him bound to the club until 2021 and could lead to a legal dispute between the two parties.
Barcelona’s official stance remains that Messi is not for sale and any interested teams would have to pay his full $828 million release clause, a record fee for the sport, but few clubs would be able to do so without violating UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations (FFP), which were established in 2009 to prevent clubs from spending more than they earn.
Amid rampant speculation about where Messi could go next—and if any other teams will even be able to afford him—a reunion with manager Pep Guardiola at Manchester City looks most likely, according to ESPN.
Manchester City will do everything it can to sign Messi on a free transfer, while Barcelona will probably try to cash out for as much as possible rather than force Messi to stay.
Sources told ESPN on Wednesday that Manchester City are willing to pay between $118 million and $177 million for the superstar, and the club could offer Gabriel Jesus and two other players in a potential trade.
Combined with Messi’s $93 million in wages, that would mean Manchester City will have to dole out at least between $210 million and $270 million to lure Messi to England, and if the club had to pay the full release clause, it would amount to an astronomical $920 million.
There are also reports, per ESPN, that Manchester City would offer Messi a long-term contract that would see him move to MLS partner club New York City FC after three years in the Premier League.
Manchester City hasn’t specified how much it would be willing to pay, dismissing many of the rumors as wild speculation: Messi’s potential move to the MLS, in particular, is further removed from the story line, sources with the club told Forbes.
Barcelona is planning to pay Messi $93 million this upcoming season—an amount that would help make him the fourth athlete to earn more than $1 billion in career earnings, pretax. Manchester City had a wage bill of more than $400 million during the 2018-19 season: If the club is able to add Messi, that would increase its wage costs by around 20%, Forbes estimates. For perspective, City’s three highest-paid players, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne, are expected to make an estimated $57 million combined this upcoming season.
Manchester City is part of holding company City Football Group, which is majority owned by Abu Dhabi’s royal family. Manchester City made $678 million in revenue in 2019 and Forbes estimates it’s the fifth-most-valuable soccer team in the world, with an overall franchise value of nearly $2.7 billion. The English club also recently saw its two-year Champions League ban overturned: UEFA had said the club violated FFP rules by misrepresenting the source of its sponsorship income, breaking club licensing rules. Any move for Messi, likely to cost several hundreds of millions of dollars, could spark yet another FFP investigation into the club.
What to watch for
The potential legal battle that will ensue if Barcelona doesn’t allow Messi to leave the club. The Argentinian superstar has already consulted legal experts regarding the clause in his contract, which stipulated that he communicate his decision to leave before June 10, sources confirmed to Forbes. While the issue could end up in court, sources have also told ESPN that Barcelona is more likely to try and reach an agreement with Messi to allow him to leave for a reasonable transfer fee.
Messi Tells Barcelona He Wants To Leave, But Club Says He Missed Deadline To Opt Out Of Contract (Forbes)
Here’s How Much Money Manchester City Will Lose From Their UEFA Champions League Ban (Forbes)
Messi Decision To Leave FC Barcelona ‘Irreversible’ Even With Bartomeu Resignation, Reports Claim (Forbes)
Lionel Messi: Gabriel Jesus And Two Other Manchester City Stars May Enter Barcelona Legend Swap Deal (Forbes)