Lionel Messi threw his future at Barcelona into further turmoil by publicly stating on Monday he had no idea where he will be playing next season.
Sitting on a stage before the world’s media – an arena in which the Argentinian forward is more than usually cautious – the man whose glittering relationship with Barcelona is under immense strain became suddenly provocative.
“I don’t know where I will be next season,” he said. “I would like to finish with Newell’s [the club from his hometown of Rosario]. As Cristiano Ronaldo says, only God knows the future. Things in football can change overnight.”
This seems particularly true of Messi, whose relationship with the Barcelona coach, Luis Enrique, has collapsed completely, culminating in his being dropped for the 1-0 defeat to David Moyes’ Real Sociedad earlier this month.
On Sunday night, after he had inspired the club he joined as a 13-year-old to a 3-1 win over Atletico Madrid, Messi had gone to great lengths to make it clear that he would stay at the Nou Camp and fight for his future. “People make out that I run the club and have got rid of people,” he said. “That is not how it is. I have been told that I have talked to Chelsea and Manchester City but that is also lies.”
Yet less than 24 hours later, during an innocuous question-and-answer session before the Ballon D’Or ceremony at Zurich’s Kongresshaus, Messi threw the question of his future back into the public domain. He also pointedly praised the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho.
His statement was seen in Barcelona as a calculated one, aimed at Luis Enrique, now that Messi’s position at the Nou Camp has been strengthened by his performance against Atletico. He has reportedly joked that he is closer to Ronaldo, who last night beat him to the Ballon D’Or with more than double Messi’s vote, than he is to his coach.
Messi had not expected to win and he did not, though he did receive Mourinho’s vote. Curiously, given that the Portuguese managed Real Madrid and he had condemned Chelsea’s interest in him as “lies”, Messi was rather more complimentary about him than the man he currently works for.
“Mourinho is a great manager,” he said. “Whether you like him or not as a person, you can’t deny he is a great coach.” Asked about Luis Enrique, all he would say is: “it’s a manager-player relationship, just like any other in the dressing room.”
Messi was in a room crammed with television cameras and microphones and was pressed hard about his statement that he had no idea where he would spend next season. Wearing a sparkling purple dinner jacket, black shirt and purple bow tie that made this usually self-effacing man look as if he were about to front a variety show, he gave a very political answer.
“People ask if I am going to carry on playing for Barcelona or return to Newell’s one day and go back to Argentina,” he said. “There is a long way to go. The truth is you get tired of having to clarify everything you say.”
There are only half a dozen clubs in the world who could afford the £195m buyout clause in his contract. Because of Financial Fair Play regulations, Chelsea would have to do some serious housekeeping before they could make a bid for Messi. So, too, would Manchester City.
Real Madrid could afford him and Ronaldo joked on stage that he would like to play in the same team as Messi and the other Ballon D’Or nominee, Germany’s World Cup-winning keeper, Manuel Neuer. Should Messi ever swap the Nou Camp for the Bernabeu, it would make the pig’s head thrown at the feet of Luis Figo, who made the same journey, look like an appetiser.