Following a frustrating 2-1 defeat at the hands of Lionel Messi and Barcelona on Sunday, Atlético Madrid President Enrique Cerezo made the shock announcement that his club is setting its sites on signing Messi away from the Camp Nou — after Messi himself drove home a late winner at the Vicente Calderon to effectively crush any Spanish La Liga title hopes the Atleti had remaining.
With the win, Barcelona pull to within a point of arch-rivals Real Madrid who sit with 55 at the top of the La Liga table, albeit with a game in hand over the Catalan club.
But Messi is apparently not a happy camper at Camp Nou. He has just one season left on his contract — a deal that will pay him approximately $21.5 million (U.S.), making him the highest paid footballer in the world, even without a new deal. That contract runs out after next season, however, and Messi is reportedly seeking a raise to the equivalent of $30 million.
Whether that amount is too much even for Barcelona, or whether there is another issue, Messi and the club now appear to be far apart in their contract extension negotiations. The superstar, who has scored 35 goals across all competitions so far in the 2016-2017 season for Barcelona including 20 in La Liga alone, is represented in the talks by his father, Jorge Messi — and the elder Messi walked out of negotiations in Spain last week, flying back to his native Argentina.
“Leo Messi’s father has already left and there is no date to meet again,” reported the Spanish sports news site AS on Friday. The site quoted a Barcelona source saying, “Every day that passes signing Messi gets more expensive.”
Will that expense be a deterrent to a raid by Atlético Madrid, in what would certainly be the most dramatic signing in Spanish, or even world, football history?
Not according to Cerezo, who when asked Monday about the prospect of resigning former Liverpool and Chelsea star Fernando Torres, made the stunning revelation.
“We are trying to sign Messi, everything else is secondary,” Cerezo said, according to Britan’s Sun tabloid.
While the prospect of Messi departing Barcelona where he has played his entire club career is not a new one, the possible addition of Atlético Madrid to the Messi sweepstakes comes out of the blue — if indeed Cerezo was serious in his claim.
Manchester City of England’s Premier League and Paris Saint-Germain, the dominant club in the French top flight, have been considered the most likely landing spots for “The Little Magician” should his contract talks with Barcelona fail to pan out.
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Manchester City is now managed by Pep Guardiola, who managed Messi at Barcelona for 247 matches, winning nearly 73 percent of those games, along with three league titles and a pair of UEFA Champions League trophies in his four seasons at the Camp Nou.
But Barcelona is still considered the favorite to retain the service of Messi past June 20, 2018, when his contract expires. Despite the walkout by Messi’s father last week, talks between the two sides are still being described as “amicable.”
[By Denis Doyle/Getty Images]