LONDON • Manchester City are leading the race to sign Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to multiple media reports.
Catalan radio station RAC1 and Argentine television channel TyC Sports have reported that the Argentina forward's father Jorge is already in England to negotiate a deal with the Premier League giants.
Reports in Spain have also suggested that City manager Pep Guardiola, who spent four years in charge at Barcelona, has spoken to Messi in person.
Messi Sr is considering a two-year deal - one that would alter City's structure. Under current club policy, City will not offer multi-year deals to players over 30. But such is the draw of Messi, 33, that City are "optimistic" of pulling off the biggest transfer coup in Premier League history, reported The Times of London.
This is despite many other obstacles, not least a potential legal dispute.
Messi asked Barca on Tuesday to allow him to leave the club he has been with for 20 seasons, since he was 13 years old.
His lawyers have referred to a clause in the four-year contract he signed in 2017 which would have allowed him to leave for free, but only if he requested it by June 10.
They will argue that the date - nominally the end of the season - is irrelevant after the coronavirus delays that led to the season's extension into this month.
The club will contend that the June date holds and if so, a world-record £200 million (S$360.6 million) fee might be required for Messi to move to the Etihad Stadium.
Sources told The Times of London that City, who have been working on this deal for over a week, have stated through chief executive Ferran Soriano that they have the financial might to sign Messi.
If anything, this is the type of marquee deal that the owners have craved for since the Abu Dhabi takeover of 2008.
Like Guardiola, who won two Champions League titles and three Spanish La Liga crowns with Messi, Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain were previously with the Catalan giants, and those relationships cannot be underestimated.
Fee (£200 million) Barcelona might demand to allow their captain Lionel Messi to move to Manchester City, where he will be reunited with former coach Pep Guardiola.
Messi's Barcelona contract is worth at least £78 million a year in wages and image-rights payments. With performance-related add-ons, it goes up to £100 million.
The sport's highest earner will require City to overhaul their wage structure, in which Kevin de Bruyne has the biggest basic salary of £280,000 a week.
City and any of the clubs chasing Messi's signature - Manchester United, Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain have all been linked with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner - would ultimately need to conform to Uefa's Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.
The coronavirus pandemic has hurt the revenue streams of all clubs. But, ironically, it could also make sure a mammoth deal is possible as Uefa has relaxed FFP regulations in an attempt to allow clubs to transition through the financial difficulties. The original FFP rules did not allow a deficit of more than €30 million (S$48.4 million) in a three-year period.
Clubs will still need to structure a creative deal and a marketing revenue boost if they were to sign Messi. A possibility would be for Messi to be paid separately as an ambassador, reported The Times. For example, Qatar-owned PSG could consider signing him up as an ambassador for a Qatar-related organisation.
Yet, new Barcelona sporting director Ramon Planes said the club remain hopeful of persuading Messi to stay.
Many believe Messi's threat to leave is in fact a bid to oust Josep Maria Bartomeu, and he will stay if the Barcelona president goes.
Spanish football expert Terry Gibson told Sky Sports that Messi wants the club to come under new leadership a year before Bartomeu's tenure is due to expire during next year's elections.
"He can't be elected to stay on for another term and I think this is a power play from Messi and his camp at the very least, if he has any intention of staying at the club, to make sure the president leaves now," Gibson said.
"If there is a choice between the Barcelona supporters of who stays or who goes, between Messi and the president, there's only one winner there."
On Tuesday, frustrated Barcelona fans gathered outside the Nou Camp to protest and demand Bartomeu's resignation.