Thursday night was a time for reflection, a time for absorption of the reality. Lionel Messi will no longer be a Barcelona player. A man so inextricably linked to the Catalans giants, to the blaugrana jersey, to the Camp Nou, will be playing somewhere else in 2021-22.
But as people woke up on Friday, the question was: what now? Where, exactly, will Messi go? What is the next step for probably the greatest player ever to step foot on a football pitch?
Some options are obvious. The big-money institutions of Paris Saint-Germanin and Manchester City might well be the first clubs to show an interest. But what about other options? Let’s have a look at what is feasible and what isn’t…
Paris Saint-Germain (8/15 with Betfred to be Messi’s next club)
Owned by the Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) group, PSG are exactly the type of outfit who really could have skin in the game when it comes to Messi. Early reports suggest that they have already reached out to the 34-year-old’s team in a bid to bring him to Parc des Princes as they look to regain the Ligue 1 title in 2021-22.
The Parisians were one of the clubs who fancied their chances of pouncing last summer when Messi alerted Barcelona of his intention to leave, and they have to be considered the most likely to get a deal done at this stage. It would also bring about a reunion with former Barca teammate Neymar!
Manchester City (13/2)
City are a club who basically look set up for a Messi arrival in so many ways. With the likes of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain having swapped Barca’s boardroom for the City one and Pep Guardiola having followed them to the Etihad, it would make so much sense for the Argentine to choose east Manchester for his next step.
The north-west of England might not have the climate of Catalunya, but within the club Messi would be able to call upon the closest thing he could get to familiar surroundings thanks to those Barcelona influences.
But given how late in the day the Messi announcement has come, City could decide to sit on their hands this time. They have already confirmed the £100m arrival of Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, and Harry Kane’s current stand-off with Tottenham is thought to have a desire to join the Cityzens at its roots. Would City make the money available to add Messi too?
The curve-ball option.
To many, there is still a feeling that Messi will end up staying at Barcelona. Is that just from the inability to picture him playing for any other club, or is it down to the wording of the statement from the Blaugrana?
The Catalans made it clear that they blame La Liga for the financial restrictions they have put on clubs, saying that the 50-year TV deal the league has signed and the imposing of a salary cap have tied Barca’s hands behind their backs.
If the league relents in either stance, is there a chance Messi could yet be lining up in the blue and red this season?
It is not unheard of for a 30-something former superstar to turn to North America for his final step in the game, but would the reigning Ballon d’Or winner truly swap the very top of the European scene for LA Galaxy? Or New York Red Bulls? Or Phil Neville’s (sorry, David Beckham's) Inter Miami?
Manchester United (20/1)
United are always linked with big-name players who come available simply because of the commercial power of the club. But surely a deal for Messi wouldn’t make sense, even for them?
The Blues swim in similar waters to PSG and Man City to some extent, but even Roman Abramovich doesn’t have the money of entire states. He also has shown a bit of restraint in terms of the truly megabucks deals in recent years.
Messi. And Ronaldo. Together… Just picture it!
It’s not going to happen, since Juve are going through cashflow problems themselves and if anything could do with offloading Ronaldo’s contract rather than take on another similar wage.
But just picture it anyway. Imagine!
A club which has just lost Antonio Conte due to the lack of finances available for strengthening their Serie A-winning squad and who are about to lose Romelu Lukaku surely won’t be able to knock together a package which would tempt Lionel Messi.
Newell's Old Boys (25/1)
The romantic option. Messi returns to his boyhood club? It’s unlikely given that he still has so much to give at the very top of the game. Mark this one down for three or four years’ time.