Lionel Messi has stunned the football world by demanding to leave Barcelona. But his contract situation is complicated and this is just the beginning of what could be a lengthy, acrimonious and ultimately historic departure.
Ahead of a key meeting between Messi's father and the Barcelona board on Thursday, we assess the situation.
To understand how it stands, and how it could develop, you have to view it from all sides...
- 'Deafening silence' from Barca squad on Messi move
- Messi does not see himself as Barca player
- Which club is best-placed to sign Messi?
- Get Sky Sports
The view from... Lionel Messi
At 33 years old and after 20 years at Barcelona, Messi finally wants out. He no longer considers himself a Barcelona player after handing in a transfer request last week, and has not shown up to the training ground since. He missed pre-training Covid-19 testing on Sunday, and inevitably the squad's first full day back ahead of the new season on Monday.
No one should expect him to return either. He means everything he has said. This is not a powerplay or an ultimatum; the player is fully aware of what his actions mean and, once a player starts down this path, they rarely turn back.
Messi and his representatives want Barcelona to honour a clause in his contract that should allow him to leave for free up to 10 days after the 2019/20 Champions League final. That clause had a date of June 10 after the original final was scheduled for May 30. But coronavirus happened, and the final was delayed until August 23.
Messi is arguing that clause is therefore still valid, and 10 days after that date will be this Wednesday - September 2 - when Messi's father Jorge is due to meet the Barcelona hierarchy in order to discuss a road out of the impasse; one that will allow his son to leave the club and join another.
As things stand, the club Messi wants to join is Manchester City, to reignite his relationship with Pep Guardiola and potentially provide City with the missing piece in their hunt for Champions League success. City remain in pole position should Messi find a way out, as reported by Sky Sports News last week.
In pursuit of his goal, Messi has offered to meet with the Barca hierarchy, including president Josep Maria Bartomeu to try to negotiate his exit. But Barca have refused, stating they will only discuss a new contract, so his father will meet them instead.
However, a video has emerged from September 2019 in which Bartomeu appears to confirm Messi can leave for free, speaking more in terms of an informal agreement, but it remains to be seen whether he will honour that sentiment and an amicable solution can be found.
If not, Messi may be forced to pursue a more bitter, legal path; tear up his contract and walk out of the club. This will almost certainly lead to the involvement of FIFA and potentially compensation set by a tribunal. It would not be pretty, but all indications are that Messi is prepared to do whatever it takes to leave.
The view from… Barcelona
Barcelona, meanwhile, is a club in deep crisis. They arguably were before Messi's devastating fax to the board. They failed to win La Liga this season, and failed to reach the Champions League final via a humiliating 8-2 defeat to eventual winners Bayern Munich.
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Trouble has been brewing all season amid difficult transfer windows, poor form under Ernesto Valverde and his successor Quique Setien, and public clashes between Messi and the hierarchy. After February's spat with sporting director Eric Abidal, the intention was to repair relationships, rebuild the team and try to get Messi to sign a new contract that would see him finish his career where it began.
But instead, the opposite has happened, and things are now much worse. Setien and Abidal have been sacked, fans are calling for Bartomeu to go too, and new manager Ronald Koeman has walked into a nightmare, with the club's star wanting to leave.
From the club's point of view, they simply cannot let that happen. Messi has to stay and the rebuild happens around him. They have been hit heavily by the coronavirus pandemic and cannot afford to just buy their way out of the mire. They have a raft of high-value players they want to move on, but the game's poorer economy now dictates they cannot hope to recoup the near £100m fees they paid for players like Philippe Coutinho or Ousmane Dembele.
Equally, top targets Neymar and Lautaro Martinez are too expensive, without offloading players in return. And almost all their efforts to do such deals have failed so far. Only Arthur has joined Juventus, with Miralem Pjanic joining in return. They do not know who is coming or going at the Nou Camp, so losing Messi would be catastrophic for the club.
Then there would be the personal ramifications for president Bartomeu, who is expected to be up for re-election next season. To lose Messi will almost certainly spell the end of his hopes to continue in the role, and to lose him without a fight would be unforgivable in the eyes of supporters.
So Barcelona are attempting to hold Messi to the clauses in his contract, including the £265m minimum release fee, and the expiry of the the June 10 clause. They will do everything they can to prevent him going and still try to sign him to a new deal.
The few from… Manchester City and other interested clubs
Manchester City are in the strongest position to sign Lionel Messi - if the Argentina star can get out of Barcelona this summer. Sky Sports News has been told that both Messi and City boss Pep Guardiola want to renew their partnership at the Etihad - putting the Premier League runners-up in a commanding lead over other suitors.
Sky Sports News had been told they were wary of Messi's actions being part of an ongoing powerplay at Barca. But City are now not commenting at all on the situation and whether the are to be his next club. They will be wary of the potentially messy (excuse the pun) negotiation and fallout to come should the player need to take the most extreme form of action.
Let's not forget that City have also just come out of the other side of a battle with UEFA over Financial Fair Play allegations, finally having their Champions League ban overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport earlier this year. Champions League football will help their cause, and they are watching events very closely, silently confident that if he leaves, it will be to the Etihad.
But for the moment, they are not getting involved and they do not need to. It is up for Messi and Barcelona to negotiate his departure - or not - while the club can be ready to open their arms to him once the way forward is clear.
Paris Saint-Germain also fancy their chances and are said to be preparing an offer. Neymar, whom Messi wanted to bring back to Barcelona last summer to no avail, has personally asked the PSG hierarchy to sign Messi, Sky Sports News has been told.
They appear to be the only other club who could potentially afford what is likely to be one of the most expensive player contracts in history.
Inter Milan are also said to be working on an offer, while Sky Sports News reported over the weekend that an intermediary working on behalf of Juventus had made enquiries about the cost of a Messi deal, but widespread reports in Italy have raised serious doubts over whether either club could afford to sign the world's best player.
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The summer transfer window will run for 10 weeks from July 27 and close at 11pm on October 5.
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