Barcelona president Joan Laporta has the cigar in his mouth but it’s not time to light it just yet.
The new president has been able to ensure a 180-degree turn from Messi, who was set on leaving Barcelona last summer, and after a very positive meeting between Laporta and Messi’s dad Jorge in midweek things are very much on the right track.
But reports emanating from Madrid that the final decision is 100 per cent made still seem premature.
Sportsmail looks at where the ‘should he stay or should he go?’ saga is now.
It looks more than likely that Lionel Messi will commit his future to Barcelona soon
So Messi stays that’s the end of it! Can he change his mind after Thursday night’s defeat to Granada?
It’s still not set in stone that he has made his mind up.
There was a dinner between Jorge Messi, the player’s father and Barcelona president Joan Laporta. It went well. That’s a huge step forward but not a definitive one.
And no he didn’t look too happy after Thursday night’s defeat although even if Barcelona end up blowing the league that’s unlikely to influence his final decision.
It wasn’t Barcelona’s night on Thursday as they suffered a shock defeat at home to Granada
What then do we make of TVE reporting that Messi has told the club he is staying?
The Madrid based national television channel were echoing the story broken by Catalan television the day before that Messi senior and Laporta had met.
They took the extra step saying Messi had agreed to stay with certain conditions.
Diario Sport headlined one of its editorials on Friday: ‘The story that still isn’t’ and spoke about it being the holy grail of Sports reporters in Spain right now.
It concluded sarcastically: ‘When the story concludes there will be no shortage of those saying: ‘Just as I said’.’
The implication was that reports in Spain saying he has agreed are jumping the gun.
But the meeting went well?
TV3 reported that Messi’s dad expressed a desire to agree to a deal.
He basically confirmed what Laporta already knew, that Messi’s preferred future scenario is that he signs a new deal to keep him at the club.
Laporta, according to the report, was unable to give exact figures on what kind of deal Barcelona could make the player because the club is still waiting for the results of an audit that will mark out what it can and can’t do this summer and beyond.
Barcelona’s new president Joan Laporta has persuaded Messi against moving elsewhere
There must have been some detail; what was discussed?
Barcelona’s approach to contract renewals in these testing economic times for them seems to boil down to trying to pay players the same amount of money but over a much longer period of time.
When Frenkie de Jong, Marc Andre ter Stegen, Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique agreed new deals last October it was basically that: the club saying: we will pay you the same amount of money as we said we would be we need a longer time period to do it in. You will have to stay for longer to earn the same.
The plan for Messi seems to be an agreement that could last for as long as ten years but split into three sections.
The first part, lasting between two and three years would be as player and captain of the team as he is now.
The second part would free him to pursue his idea of playing MLS in the US, quite probably for David Beckham’s Inter Miami, but still having important Barca ambassadorial responsibilities.
And the third would see him back at the club in some sporting director capacity. TV3 claimed that would enable Barcelona to reduce by half the player’s annual salary.
Messi may sign for David Beckham’s MLS franchise Inter Miami in a few years’ time
Cheap at half the price?
Well going on the El Mundo revelations of his last contract signed in 2017 there a was guaranteed gross figure of £122m.
So paying half that – more or less £30m a season to Messi and the same amount to the taxman becomes more realistic for Barcelona.
And the proposal appeals to Messi?
The staying on as a player part certainly does. Before Thursday night at least, he had had a smile on his face again with Ronald Koeman’s team playing good football and Messi at the centre of it with youngsters such as Frenkie de Jong and Pedri coming close to aiding and abetting his brilliance in much the same way that Andres Iniesta and Xavi used to.
His on the pitch relationship with Antoine Griezmann has also improved and there was another example of that against Granada when the Frenchman set-up Messi for his goal.
He has made no secret of wanting to then take his young family to the US when he can play his last football Stateside.
If he could do that still linked to Barcelona and then be welcomed back with a job in the club he would accept it although he has always made it clear he does not want a purely symbolic contract that pays him for doing nothing.
The ambassadorial role would have to be tangible and he would then have to want to take on a director of football role in the long term.
His on-pitch understanding with Antoine Griezmann is one of several Barca improvements
Even at half price Messi is still a major expense. How can they afford to keep him?
There is still a strong argument that he would cost more to lose than to keep.
Barcelona need to sit down with existing sponsors who want to refinance payments in light of the pandemic.
They want to sit down with new potential sponsors who can help them pave a way out of financial trouble. All that will be easier with Messi than without him.
Bloomberg reported this week that Laporta has already been able to refinance part of the club’s £636m short-term debt. The re-financiation seems to have referred to bonds issued in 2018 and 2019 to the tune of around 200m euros (£174m).
The easing of the short-term debt burden will have helped Laporta convince Jorge Messi of Barcelona’s capacity to keep on paying his son.
Messi pictured with his father and agent Jorge, who is working out the details of the new deal
What has changed in Messi’s mind? How has he gone from wanting to leave last summer to being ready to commit this Spring?
When Laporta took over he said he was convinced Messi wanted to stay.
That conviction had clearly come from previous messages exchanged with Jorge Messi with whom he has maintained contact with ever since his first stint as president. Laporta winning the election was big boost to Messi not leaving.
‘I am lucky enough to be able to say that he [Messi] has told me: “you have never lied to me. Always when you have proposed something to me, you have kept your word”,’ Laporta proudly told Sportsmail in an interview last December.
There’s also been a constant emotional pull that’s being exerted. Some big names from the club’s recent past have contributed to a new TV3 documentary and all say he should stay.
Luis Suarez, Luis Enrique and Ronaldinho are among those making it clear they believe the romantic notion of him retiring from European football as a one-club man is the one he should follow.
What was looking like a desperate season has also since turned into a potential double-winning campaign. The league title is still very doable despite Thursday night’s setback.
To what extent is he demanding new signings?
Because of the way young talent has emerged all around him this season it no longer seems to be the case that the team needs a huge overhaul.
And that’s a good thing because there is not the money to bring in players and those the club wants to move on might be hard to shift. Messi is well aware of the situation.
But his mantra of the last three or four years remains the same: we must be competitive. And that will mean at least one big name reinforcement in attack.
Those close to Messi say this part matters even more than the financial aspects of the deal: the team must be built to compete next season.
Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland is a Barca target – but can they afford the striker?
Big signings a must?
At least one. Laporta’s very public meeting with Mino Raiola was a way of making it clear he will do everything he can to bring football’s next best thing to the Camp Nou.
The two men worked together on bringing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Barcelona in 2010 and it’s possible they could repeat the trick with Erling Haaland.
Just this week Barcelona supporters were buoyed by the player’s father Alf Inge liking a tweet from Jan Aage Fjortoft who had said ‘Normal for Messi, impossible for the rest’ in response to Barcelona’s tweet about Messi scoring 30 or more goals for 13 straight seasons.
The idea of Haaland going to Barcelona to play alongside Messi in his final seasons appeals to both the player and his dad but there is still the small matter of finding a way to pay Haaland and his agent.
It still looks like being beyond Barcelona this summer unless big offers come in for players such as Coutinho and Dembele and that looks unlikely.
Haaland arriving would certainly sweeten the deal with Messi, but then so would the return of Neymar and maybe even the arrival of his international team mate Sergio Aguero. They look like plan B and plan C at the moment.
Speculation that Neymar will return to Barcelona from PSG in the summer window persist
Barcelona are waiting to see how PSG’s season plays out and what they decide to do in the summer with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
They would have Neymar’s desire to come back to Barcelona on their side in any possible negotiations. Aguero would be nowhere near as jaw-dropping as Haaland or Neymar but it would put an old friend back in the Barca dressing room.
It’s not a deal-breaker that he arrives but as Barcelona showed last night with 81 per cent of possession and a defeat a poacher might help them at least on the domestic front if not in the Champions League environment.
So that’s where we’re at: nearly but not quite?
A lot has changed since last summer. A new president, the emergence of Pedri, De Jong and company, the ongoing economic situation limiting movement in the transfer market in general.
PSG are still on sight with a bottomless pit of money and the ‘How to get around financial fair play’ handbook with them.
But Messi senior’s lunch with Laporta was a massive move in the right direction for Barcelona. A couple more three-course meals and it might be time for the cigars.