Lionel Messi may eventually take center stage in New York.
After the 33-year-old soccer superstar — one of the world’s most popular athletes — formally told Barcelona Tuesday he wanted to leave the club, Manchester City is considering offering Messi a deal that would have him move to New York City FC of the MLS after three years, according to ESPN. NYCFC is a sister club of Manchester City, a Premier League powerhouse.
A potential Messi move to the MLS would rival, if not eclipse, the spectacle of David Beckham joining the LA Galaxy in 2007 after starring at Manchester United and Real Madrid. Beckham was the first of several big-name stars to play in the United States, including Thierry Henry, Kaka and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It is Beckham with whom Messi has been linked for two years after Messi congratulated Beckham on the new Miami MLS team he owns. Rumors have swirled about a potential Messi-Miami union after he told Beckham in a 2018 video, “Who knows, maybe in a few years you can give me a call.”
Messi’s desire to leave Barcelona sent shockwaves throughout the soccer world as he’s become arguably the sport’s greatest player over 16 years with the team — scoring 634 goals, winning 10 La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League titles. But Barcelona won’t let Messi leave without a fight.
Messi is attempting to execute a clause in his contract that allows him to leave Barcelona for free, but the club insists the window for him to exercise that clause this year expired in June. Messi believes the clause is still valid because the season was extended following a coronavirus-induced pause.
“As we have said many times, we’re still thinking of Messi as a Barca player,” Barcelona sporting director Ramon Planes said Wednesday, according to ESPN. “Barca have rebuilt themselves many times throughout history and have always bounced back stronger. Our idea is to rebuild around the best player in the world.
“There’s a huge amount of respect for Leo because of what he is and his story here, but we’re not thinking about any contractual clause. We can’t have a public dispute between Barca and Messi, because neither side deserves that.”
Planes added: “The marriage between Messi and Barca has given both parties a lot. It has given the fans a huge amount of joy, and we have to fight for that relationship to continue. Internally, we’re working hard to convince Messi to stay. We want to find the best solution for Barca and for Messi.”
If Messi’s opt-out clause is ultimately overruled, a team would have to pay 700 million euros, roughly $828 million, to buy him from Barcelona.