It’s hard to imagine a world where Barcelona captain Lionel Messi is playing for a different club.
If the 33-year-old is plying his trade elsewhere at the start of next season, it will be the final piece of proof (if ever it was needed) that 2020 truly is the strangest year any of us have lived through.
The legendary Argentine forward is synonymous with the Catalan giants, having spent his entire professional career at Camp Nou.
But for the first time, Messi is now seriously considering his future following a hugely disappointing 2019-20 season.
Barça lost out to fierce rivals Real Madrid in the La Liga title race and were then humiliated by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last week.
Messi and his teammates were powerless to prevent their team slumping to a catastrophic 8-2 defeat in Lisbon.
Two days later, the journalist who broke the news of Neymar’s 2017 move to Paris Saint-Germain sensationally revealed that Messi wants to leave Barcelona immediately.
Marcelo Bechler stunned the footballing world with his announcement that Messi, furious after the Bayern defeat, doesn’t want to wait until his current deal expires in 2021 before leaving Camp Nou.
The same journalist has now provided more details to Bleacher Report’s B/R Football Ranks podcast.
Bechler says it *is* ‘very likely’ that Messi will leave Barcelona this summer if another project at a different club takes his fancy.
Barça, meanwhile, are understood to be ‘pessimistic’ about keeping their star man.
"At the beginning of the season he said what was important was not a big contract or money, but a strong project,” Bechler explained. “And with no titles and that loss to Bayern, he still has three or four years left to play and he knows he can help Barca—but they can not help him.
"Messi has always thought him and Barca were 'just one thing,' but now he is thinking maybe he can be another thing without Barcelona. He can make another step and try to win without Barcelona.
"He is angry with the board and disappointed with the club and wants to leave now. Barca are pessimistic because they can't offer a solid project and can't do much to help him.
"It is very likely he leaves Barcelona if there is another project, I don't know where or which club. It is impossible in this economy to pay €700 million, but I think Barca don't want him here unhappy. After all that Messi gave to them, they don't want him here as a prisoner."
It sounds like Barcelona won’t stand in Messi’s way if he genuinely wants to leave the club.
Not because they don’t want him to stay, but because they feel they owe it to him after everything he’s done for the club over the past 16 years.
The last thing they want is for Messi to feel like a prisoner at Camp Nou, so it sounds likely that they would accept a fee significantly lower than his €700 million buyout clause.
As things stand, there have been no formal bids for Messi.
That said, Manchester City are the current favourites to sign the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, followed by Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.
Barcelona's under-fire president Josep Maria Bartomeu insisted on Tuesday that Messi will stay and be a cornerstone of the Ronald Koeman project.
But that might be wishful thinking...
- The day Messi described Joe Hart as 'phenomenal'
- Barcelona have put all but five players up for sale
- How the football world looked when RB Leipzig were formed in 2009