The Daily Star claims Lionel Messi wants to move to the Premier League and Arsenal is his destination of choice.
Before you switch off, this was not one of the tabloid newspaper's usual click-baiting, time-wasting stories. This was a back page exclusive, written by their chief football writer David Woods. Admittedly, that only lends it a slight bit of credibility, but enough for us to take notice.
There is nothing new about Messi considering an exit from Barcelona. There have been loudening whispers that he is ready for a new challenge and the Premier League offers a formidable challenge.
SIGN UP NOW
Want to become a GMS writer? Sign up now and submit a 250 word test article: https://gms.to/haveyoursay4
It is also easy to claim that Arsenal is his preferred choice. They have the most reputable manager, a star-studded squad and the stability that all players crave. Not to mention, they are widely perceived to play the best football in Europe (behind Barcelona, of course).
But is there any point in Messi wanting to move to Arsenal? According to the report, he wants £600,000-a-week and Barcelona will not sell for less than his £175million release clause. Let's take a quick look at Arsenal's finances to see how far they are from buying someone of his calibre.
The transfer fee
When Barcelona put a €250m release clause in Messi's contract (May 2014), the Pound/Euro exchange rate was £1/€1.23. Now, thanks to a financial crisis from an unnamed European country, the rate has moved to £1/€1.42. That won't make too much of difference when you change up your spending money for that summer trip to Zante, but, for a Premier League club, the result is a significant reduction in Messi's value, to the tune of £25m (£200m to £175m).
As Swiss Ramble declared in September, Arsenal have significant cash reserves available. Fans have often bemoaned Arsene Wenger's reluctance to spend the £228m the Gunners have in the bank and some may conclude from that figure alone that the Frenchman has the financial capacity to buy the four-time Ballon d'Or winner.
However, as Swiss Ramble points out, a large part of that money is not available for transfers. As part of a loan agreement taken to build the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal's cash reserves must always be above £35m. They also have £66m in unpaid transfer fees to think about. So, already Arsenal's "available" cash has fallen to £128m.
Still a sizeable amount, but not enough to even get Messi to the negotiating table. And even if they do get the chance to speak to the Argentinian, they may not even get close to agreeing on terms.
Messi wants £18million after tax, meaning Arsenal would have to find £600,000 extra every week just to get him to pull on the shirt. In many ways, this is far more prohibitive than the transfer fee as Arsenal have had a strict wage structure for the whole of Wenger's reign.
Arsenal have, however, moved with the times and now have three stars earning £140,000-a-week (Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil). According to reports, both Sanchez and Ozil are likely to be earning more if they sign new deals.
They still trail their rivals significantly with regards to their highest earners. Chelsea, who have also been linked with Messi, pay Eden Hazard £200,000-a-week while Manchester United's highest earner is Wayne Rooney on £300,000-a-week.
But Arsenal are closer to their rivals in terms of total wage bill than those stats might suggest. Their wages for 2015 rose by 16 per cent to £192m – more than double what it was in 2007. With a turnover of £329million, the wages represents 58% of total expenditure; the seventh lowest in the Premier League (2013/14 season).
Adding £18m on top of that for a single player would take them to £210m and a 64% wage/turnover ratio. That's still not as high as the 75% endured by West Brom – the highest at that time – but would still move Arsenal closer towards the world of financial instability.
If Arsenal paid £175m for Messi, their cash reserves would be reduced to £53m. With £35m needed for debt treatment, it would leave them with just £18m to pay off any outstanding costs, such as if those 60,000 seats need re-cushioning.
But every penny of that £18m would be taken up by Messi's first-year wage. Beautiful symmetry. So, in short, Arsenal can afford Messi, but if he twists his knee and snaps his ACL in his first game, they will be left financially exhausted.