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Lionel Messi is NOT using Man City for a pay rise but battle with Bartomeu is far from over

Manchester City supporters will have been wary of being played by Lionel Messi as he has tried to manoeuvre the current president out of power at the Nou Camp in recent weeks. 

And as Barcelona stand by their demands for a £89.5million (€100m)-plus transfer fee for their player his determination to see this through will now be severely tested.

This is not the normal player-wanting-a-better-contract situation. Messi is not using Manchester City to get a pay rise. And while the saga might have started off as a masterplan to boot out the board it seemed to go beyond that when he sent the burofax this week. 

It was direct, and it’s hard to see a way back from it.

Those closest to the player both in Argentina and Barcelona have indicated that Messi will not change his mind now. And Manchester City’s ex-Barca staff know the Argentine well enough to sense that he is serious about his desire for a change.

But it is also true that this is not the first time Messi has been close to going to City. In 2016 he was being pursued by the Spanish taxman and was unhappy at the direction being taken by the Catalan club.

He was giving a 21-month suspended prison sentence for tax evasion. It was subsequently changed to a £223,000 fine in 2017. He felt he had been stitched up by a change in interpretation of tax law and wanted to leave Spain.

Messi asked Barcelona to let him leave for Manchester City then and even offered to propose the switch himself so that the board would not be burdened with the tag of having been the men who allowed him to leave.

But he allowed Barcelona to talk him down and in the end he landed in England but only as part of a pre-season training camp at St George’s Park.

In 2017 he signed a new contract with Bartomeu – the one currently being contested because of it’s complicated free-transfer option at the end of the season.

Renewing Messi’s contract has never been straightforward despite the player knowing that, for the most part, he has never really wanted to be anywhere else.

It was back in 2005 when he signed his first deal.

Txiki Begiristain, then at Barcelona, travelled to Holland where Messi was playing in the Under-20 World Cup for Argentina.

He signed for five years with a £134m (€150m) buy-out clause. He signed an improvement the same year after winning that youth tournament and another deal, his third, in 2007.

In 2008 he signed a new contract on better terms. He renewed again the same year and again in 2009, this time with a release clause bumped up to £250m.

He signed again in 2012 a year after winning a second European Cup in three years with Barcelona. And then again in 2014 before the World Cup.

Club director, Javier Faus, once said that he did not know why it was necessary to be constantly renewing Messi’s contract, a clear signal that Barcelona were growing tired of the constant economic pandering to him.

Messi responded: ‘Mr Faus is someone who knows nothing about football and who tries to run Barcelona as if it were a business. It is not.’ And that director was not part of the board for much longer.

But the pandemic has made pay cuts more important than pay increases. Had Messi negotiated a new deal with Bartomeu last season it would have been the first that did not improve on the terms of the contract it was replacing. There are more pay cuts for all the players on the horizon too with no supporters expected back inside stadiums any time soon.

It’s true that Messi’s current discontent has been brewing for a long time. Former sporting director Eric Abidal upset him by suggesting the players got Ernesto Valverde the sack in January.

The president was then accused of hiring a firm of social media experts whose company was later linked to online accounts that published negative stories about players.

The club failed to re-sign Messi’s old friend Neymar last summer or build the competitive team for this season. As he said in one interview: ‘Right now we don’t have what it takes to win the Champions League.’

And it was significant that when he signed his last deal in 2017 he did not rush to sit alongside Bartomeu for the celebratory photo.

Like all presidents who have renewed Messi, Bartomeu wanted to show off his prize catch but Messi was having none of it.

He had more important business that summer like getting married to Antonella Roccuzzo in their home town of Rosario, Argentina.

Relations were not particularly healthy at the time between the player and the president and in the end Messi made the board wait for their picture.

Three months after basic agreements had been signed, he agreed to do the photo opportunity and the ceremonial signing next to a broadly grinning Bartomeu.

‘This is my home and I am happy to stay here,’ he said at the time.

He looks a million miles from uttering those words again. But sources in Argentina say he does now intend to attend the squad PCR coronavirus test on Sunday and training on Sunday and Monday.

And if Barcelona remain adamant that they will not budge on their demands for a big fee and on their belief that they have the contract situation right and the player is not a free agent then Messi will have to force a way out of the club he has been at since he was 13. 

His battle with Bartomeu is not won yet.

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