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There
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Lionel Messi, one club man.

It has a nice ring to it, especially if you are a Barcelona supporter, but the five-times Ballon d’Or winner could leave at the end of this season for nothing because of a clause in his contract. 

Sportsmail looks at the fine print and asks how likely is the greatest Barcelona player of all-time to finish his Nou Camp career.

There's a chance Lionel Messi could wave goodbye to Barcelona at the end of the season

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There’s a chance Lionel Messi could wave goodbye to Barcelona at the end of the season

What does Messi’s contract state?

According to Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu, the contract Messi signed two years ago does not run out until 2021 but next summer he could, in Bartomeu’s words: ‘Leave Barca, quit football or play where he wants to.’ 

So as things stand his buy-out is €700m (£624m) but that drops to zero in June 2020.

Which is a clause for concern?

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Yes very good, clause for concern. It is and it isn’t. 

It would certainly make it impossible for Barcelona to do with Messi what Real Madrid did with Cristiano Ronaldo and flog him for €100m (£89m) aged 33.

But no one at Barcelona wants to do that anyway. Messi will be 33 next June. 

They want him to stay and they are banking on him wanting to. So there will be no problem.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has revealed Messi will be given the choice to 'leave Barca, quit football or play where he wants to' at the end of the season

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has revealed Messi will be given the choice to 'leave Barca, quit football or play where he wants to' at the end of the season

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Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has revealed Messi will be given the choice to ‘leave Barca, quit football or play where he wants to’ at the end of the season

And this clause is normal in football?

It’s normal at Barcelona for long-serving players. 

As Bartomeu said last week: ‘(Andres) Iniesta, Xavi and (Carles) Puyol had the same clause. We should not worry about Messi. I doubt he wants to play for another club but he has earned the right to choose his own future. 

‘He is a big Barcelona fan and I have no doubts that he will want to continue until 2021 [when his contract ends] and then for another year or so more.’

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Is Bartomeu talking sense, or is it all just wishful thinking?

Well he’s probably right that Messi does not want to play for another club in Spain. 

And it’s unlikely he would want an adventure in England or Italy at the age of 33. 

But a move outside of Europe is almost bound to come at some point.

It's unlikely that Messi will seek a new challenge in England or Italy if he decides to leave

It's unlikely that Messi will seek a new challenge in England or Italy if he decides to leave

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It’s unlikely that Messi will seek a new challenge in England or Italy if he decides to leave 

Messi at Barcelona 

2004-PRESENT

687 matches, 603 goals

HONOURS

La Liga 2004-05, 2005-06, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2012-13, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18 2018-19

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Copa del Rey 2008-09, 2011-12, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18

Champions League 2005-06, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2014-15

UEFA Super Cup 2009, 2011, 2015

FIFA Club World Cup 2009, 2011, 2015

 

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Going back to Argentina to play?

This seems unlikely. Whenever he is asked about the possibility of returning to his old club Newell’s his answer depends largely on where he is being asked the question. 

If he is asked in Argentina he goes to great lengths to neither commit to saying yes nor offending his country. 

When he is asked in Europe he tends to be a little bit more direct. There will be other options on the table that are likely to be more enticing.

Such as?

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The United States. His great pal Luis Suarez has already been sounded out about a move to Miami. 

David Beckham’s Inter Miami project kick-starts next March and Suarez could be a big name signing. Suarez’s contract runs out in 2021 when he will be 34. 

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they go together to extend their careers and their friendship stateside.

Messi and Luis Suarez could one day continue their friendship in Major League Soccer

Messi and Luis Suarez could one day continue their friendship in Major League Soccer

Messi and Luis Suarez could one day continue their friendship in Major League Soccer

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But will it happen in 2020 or in 2021?

Messi wants at least one more Champions League. 

Considering all the magical football and goals he has served up over the last decade,  three European Cups [he doesn’t really count Paris 2006 because he was in the stands having not recovered full fitness to play] is actually not a great return. 

For as long as he starts the season believing he can add to that tally then it seems more likely he will stay than leave.

Do Barcelona supporters and commentators share that view?

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Most think the greatest factor for Messi regardless of contracts and clauses is that Barcelona continues to be competitive.

For all that it has been denied by the club it does seem that Messi’s desire to link up again with Neymar was the key reason why Barcelona pursued the Brazilian – or at least did their best to look like they were pursuing him when they knew they could not afford him – this summer.

Messi is keen to play alongside Brazilian star Neymar again but Barcelona can't afford him

Messi is keen to play alongside Brazilian star Neymar again but Barcelona can't afford him

Messi is keen to play alongside Brazilian star Neymar again but Barcelona can’t afford him

And when he goes, his clause deems that he goes for free?

Well the estimated €40m (£35.6m) salary will have been rubbed off the wage bill as will the tax payable on it. So there will be some sort of economic dividend to losing him. 

But nobody wants it to happen. Asked last year by Sportsmail how he saw Barcelona’s post-Messi future, Bartomeu spoke about Neymar. 

He said: ‘He had the chance to be the No 1 when Messi went. It never worked out that way and we got a lot of money and we invested that in two players, [Philippe] Coutinho and [Ousmane] Dembele.’

Dembele is currently running to stand still at Barcelona and Coutinho has been shipped out on loan to Bayern. 

Replacing him will be almost as difficult as properly recognising his contribution. 

Will there be a statue we asked Bartomeu: ‘No, there will be 10,’ was his reply.

Messi is desperate to win the Champions League again before the end of his career

Messi is desperate to win the Champions League again before the end of his career

Messi is desperate to win the Champions League again before the end of his career