Manchester City could sign Lionel Messi while he is still in dispute with Barcelona, but they would risk being hit with sanctions and a possible £629million (€700m) bill if FIFA ended up ruling in the Spanish club’s favour.
Messi believes he is a free agent. Barcelona say he is tied to the club for another year and with the huge release clause.
If City believe Messi is right they could get a provisional international transfer certificate (ITC) from FIFA and register him to play this coming season.
FIFA would then rule on the dispute between Barcelona and Manchester City in the early part of next year.
If they then decided that Messi was right about being a free agent then City would be in the clear. But if FIFA ruled that Barcelona were right then City could be liable for Messi’s massive release clause and face possible sanctions.
The last contract that Messi signed in 2017 allowed him to leave on a free at the end of every season providing he provided notice of his intention to do so in the first 10 days of June.
When there was no news from Messi during the first 10 days of June this year the club took it that the deadline had passed and he was now tied to another year at the club.
But Messi has a different interpretation. If his contract allows him to leave on a free at the end of every season, and this season did not end until August, then he believes he can go for nothing now, providing he informs the club – which he did do by sending the burofax on Tuesday.
FIFA will only get involved in the event of a transfer between national federations so Messi could resolve things in Spain by going to an employment tribunal where a judge would decide how much, if anything, he should pay to get himself out of his contract.
This process would be lengthy and would not enable City to register Messi before the October deadline.
A third option is that Barcelona could negotiate a settlement with the player, or with a buying club, without going through the courts. This would involve Messi buying himself out of his final year or City stumping up a transfer fee.
Barcelona have briefed that Messi will only be allowed to leave if someone breaks the transfer world record set by Neymar’s £198m move to Paris Saint-Germain.
Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu’s rivals are maneuvering to force a vote of no confidence and immediate elections but that process is complicated in times of a pandemic.
They will need to gather signatures from 15 per cent of the membership. Currently that means 16,570 names on a petition. Gathering such support is a lot easier to do, stood outside the Nou Camp on a match day but football is indefinitely behind closed doors in Spain.
Bartomeu’s opponents would have 14 days to gather the necessary number of signatures. The club would then be forced to hold a referendum and a two-thirds majority would force elections.
If Messi’s free-agent status is confirmed then City will be able to make their move risk free. Their next problem would be finding a way to pay Messi the £95m per year (€106m) he earns at Barcelona without breaking financial fair play rules.