Manchester City are reported to have made a firm enquiry for Lionel Messi and are ‘growing increasingly confident’ they are the Argentinian’s first choice should he leave Barcelona.
Although it is widely reported that Messi, who is contracted to Barcelona until the summer of 2018, is content at the Nou Camp and has no plans to leave.
But the Guardian reports that City have a firm belief that Pep Guardiola’s arrival in the summer puts them in pole position should the five-times world player of the year depart.
Guardiola was in charge of Barcelona from 2008-12, when Messi was part of the team who won the first treble in Spanish history, along with a second Champions League, two more La Liga titles and a further Copa del Rey.
Txiki Begiristain, City’s sporting director, and Ferran Soriano, the chief executive, also worked closely with Messi when in similar positions at Barcelona. Soriano, in particular, is thought to be close to Messi and his family.
The report claims City are continueing to monitor Messi’s situation should he become unsettled.
The 28-year-old faces a tax case in which he and his father, Jorge, are accused of defrauding the Spanish state of €4.2m (£3.3m) between 2007 and 2009. The court hearing starts in Barcelona on 31 May. Messi and his father deny wrongdoing and paid €5m in 2013 as a corrective measure, amounting to the alleged unpaid tax plus interest.
Messi is contracted to Barcelona for another 28 months, when he will be approaching his 30th birthday and is thought to earn around €20m a year, or €385,000 a week, and to have a buyout clause of €250m.
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Messi could expect any deal to take him to the Etihad Stadium to bring a marked increase in salary but City’s ability to market the forward as their global icon means his presence at the club would be lucrative.
The City hierarchy also view Guardiola’s arrival as giving the club an edge with regard to buying any Barcelona players they may be interested in. When Guardiola joined Bayern Munich in June 2013 following a year’s sabbatical after leaving Barcelona he was reluctant to return to the Catalan club for players. In three seasons at the Bundesliga champions he has taken only Thiago Alcântara from Barca, in his first summer.
Players that would be of interest to Guardiola include the midfielder Sergio Busquets, the right-back Dani Alves and the forward Neymar, who considered an approach from Manchester United last summer.