Lionel Messi is not having the best of summers. He lost his third major final in as many years with Argentina, missing a penalty in the Copa America final shootout against Chile. He subsequently retired from international football and has now been handed a 21-month jail sentence by a Spanish court for tax fraud.
While Messi won't see time behind bars – Spanish law dictates that sentences under two years are served under probation if it is a first offence – it is hardly good news for the Barcelona stalwart. It is unsurprising, then, that he may be considering his options ahead of the new season. A fresh start may be exactly what he needs.
According to The Sun, his father Jorge, who was also handed the same sentence on Wednesday, has held a secret meeting with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich over a potential move to the Premier League. Taking place on the oligarch's superyacht, the Eclipse, Abramovich declared his interest in the five-time Ballon d'Or winner and agreed to match his current wage of £600,000-a-week.
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But Messi's apparent temptation to leave Camp Nou does not come without massive obstacles. He remains the best footballer in the world and any club wanting to sign him would have to agree to pay well over £100million.
Manchester City had been previously linked with a deal for Messi and their mega rich owners will not hesitate to bring him to the Etihad if Pep Guardiola gives his backing. They have reportedly offered Messi £800,000-a-week in the recent past.
What's the problem?
Amid the announcement that the 29-year-old had been found guilty of tax fraud, FC Barcelona immediately released a statement backing their star player.
It read: "FC Barcelona gives all its support to Leo Messi and his father with relation to the sentence for tax evasion handed out by the Provincial Court in Barcelona today.
"FC Barcelona continues to be at the disposal of Leo Messi and his family to support him in whatever action he decides to take in defence of his honesty and his legal interests."
However, there is a feeling within his camp that the Spanish club could have done much more to support him throughout the case.
This is all probably a negotiating tool as Messi prepares to discuss what is likely to be his final contract with Barcelona. With his current deal set to expire in 2018, the club are keen to get the Argentinian on terms that will keep him tied to Catalonia for the remainder of his peak years.
Messi will want to get as much money as possible from the deal and stories like this will only help his case. For Chelsea fans hoping to see Messi in a blue shirt sometime soon, we suggest you don't hold your breath.
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