Lionel Messi’s Argentinian team-mate Pablo Zabaleta has revealed that the current Ballon d’Or holder often quizzes him about what life is like with Manchester City, but could he be set for a blockbuster move to the Premier League.
Messi’s future with the current Spanish champions has come into question this season following reports of a disagreement between the Argentinian forward and Barcelona’s medical team, although this was rubbished by the player’s management team.
Furthermore, club president Sandro Rosell was forced to deny that the new deal handed to Cristiano Ronaldo worth £14m a year had caused Messi to demand a renegotiation of his own, with his current contract running until 2016 with a £209m release clause.
The speculation regarding the state of his happiness at the Nou Camp has triggered talk of a move away from the club he joined back in 2000 when he became part of the youth set-up, with Bayern Munich, Chelsea and now Manchester City being muted as possible destinations.
And Zabaleta, who joined City in 2008 when he was signed from Espanyol, admits that the two are still close friends from their days in Barcelona and that Messi always quizzes him about the club.
“I remember when we were in Barcelona we were very close friends because we were living in the same city and had known each other for a number of years,” admitted Zabaleta. “I was just starting out at Espanyol and Lionel was at Barça. When I signed for City I think two days later the news broke that Sheikh Mansour had bought the club and Lionel always recalls that I joined at such a fantastic time.
“He asked me a lot about City but I couldn't tell him much because I didn't know much myself – but it's something we often talk about. Plus the fact that I'm still here.”
With City already securing their qualification for the Champions league last-16 thanks to the win over CSKA Moscow last time out, Zabaleta admits that a potential draw against Barcelona would be one to relish, and feels his club would have a genuine chance at knocking out the club that has claimed the trophy three times in the last eight seasons.
“If we have to face Barca in the Champions League, we will be ready and I think it will be a fantastic game – but we'll wait and see,” he added. “I played against Messi for Espanyol against Barca and I recall in my second season at City when we played in the Nou Camp in the Joan Gamper Trophy and we won 1-0 with a goal from Martin Petrov. So I think we are about level at the moment.”
Following their 6-0 drubbing of Tottenham on Sunday, City sit fourth in the Premier League table, six points off leaders Arsenal, but Zabaleta hasn’t ruled out claiming an unprecedented treble of the Premier League, Champions League and World Cup in the same season.
“I don't know, the good thing is we are in the race for all those trophies and as a player you have to try and win everything you are involved in,” Zabaleta said cautiously.
“There are differences between each competition, of course. The Premier League is over 38 games while the Champions League and World Cup is over fewer games and anything can happen. From my own experience, winning the Premier League was so special because it means everything to the players and the supporters and it is the biggest prize in England.
“As for the Champions League, we are up against the best teams in Europe and it is a difficult competition to win being realistic. But we will try our best and you never know in football.”