Exclusive - Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain are increasingly confident that Lionel Messi is prepared to leave Barcelona in 2021.
The 33-year-old attempted to engineer a move away from Camp Nou last summer, with the club in crisis both on and off the pitch. He endured a very public falling out with former president Josep Bartomeu, and his relationship with the club appears to be beyond repair.
Barça are still hoping to convince Messi to commit the rest of his career to the club, and the appointment of a new president in the new year may sway the Argentine into sticking it out in Catalonia.
However, Europe's giants are circling in anticipation that the forward will reaffirm his intentions to leave Barcelona, and knowledgable sources have exclusively informed 90min that both Man City and PSG hold 'genuine belief' he will leave la Blaugrana in 2021.
The source told 90min: “There is now a genuine belief that 2021 will see Lionel Messi move on. We know from intermediaries that the financial demands have changed and are now considered much more ‘realistic’ and because of this Man City and PSG are taking this seriously.
“Getting Messi now means you get a good two or three years out of him, if not more – but if he does not move this year, he won’t get many more chances and with Barcelona’s current situation, now could be the perfect time for all parties.”
While Messi is more keen on the split, it may also be a smart decision for Barcelona to allow him to take his leave. His current wage equates to roughly £750,000-a-week, depending on image rights and bonuses, making him a valuable but expensive asset to the club.
However, Messi is so keen to force a move, that he and his father (who is also his agent) have lowered his wage demands into the realms of 'normality' - a compromise which would see him receive half his current earnings.
This reduction would still make him the highest paid player at Man City, and would put him on a par with PSG's top earner Neymar. And it's this willingness to lower his demands which has left the European giants convinced Messi is now a realistic and reachable target for the summer.
The Citizens and PSG appear to be the only clubs who can realistically afford to pay Messi's wages, and both have plans in place in order to lure him away from Barcelona.
Man City's summer plan involved striking a deal with parent company City Football Group, which would have allowed the forward to choose his destination on a yearly basis within the company's portfolio of clubs.
One of the pulls of this project was that CFG were investigating as to whether they could invest in an Argentinian club - something that would greatly attract Messi to their plans - but current regulations ban the possibility of foreign investment. Man City were hopeful that Messi's presence as a native would help them to overcome those strict rules, but the move eventually failed to materialise.
In fact, the team in pole position to land Messi is PSG. The French champions are slowly resigning themselves to selling Kylian Mbappe, with Real Madrid the likeliest destination for the French forward. Talks have been held which include the possibility of involving Eden Hazard in the deal, although fitting both the Belgian and Messi in the same team could prove problematic.
Man City and PSG's owners have long dreamt of adding Messi to their star-studded collection, and despite his age, landing the Argentine remains one of their ambitions, alongside lifting the Champions League.