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The key players involved as Lionel Messi tries to leave Barcelona

The Lionel Messi soap opera has no shortage of characters on both sides of his battle with Barcelona to leave as a free agent this summer.

In a move that sent shockwaves across the football landscape, Messi officially stated he wishes to leave his lifelong club and this time it is not merely a case of engineering a steep pay rise. 

Here, Sportsmail looks into who’s who at the Nou Camp, and asks who will hold most sway in how all this turns out.

It was no coincidence that the day after Ronald Koeman told Luis Suarez he was surplus to requirements Messi’s burofax dropped in Barca’s lap. 

When Carles Puyol tweeted positively about Messi’s transfer request Suarez replied to the message with applause. The two dined out together on Wednesday night in a top Barcelona restaurant. 

Why the dinner out where they knew they would probably be seen? Was this another show of solidarity to Suarez from Messi? 

His grievances with the club clearly go far deeper and he had already told Koeman he felt more ‘out than in’ before Suarez was in effect ‘laid-off’ but it’s part of his unhappiness that the Uruguayan is off. 

Was Messi seeking Suarez’s counsel over his possible move to Manchester City? It was Suarez who advised Messi not to go to the Premier League in 2016 when he was desperate to leave Spain and ready to play for Pep Guardiola. 

The pair have long had the idea of retiring both their families to the US although neither believed it would happen for several more seasons. Was that another item on the agenda last night?

Jorge Messi has looked after Lionel’s interests ever since he turned up at Barcelona as a shy young teenager. 

He has seen him successfully through NINE contracts at the club. The next piece of paper he signs will be as important as all the others because it will decide how Messi ends his career. 

He has always been the bridge between Messi and the club. He had an excellent relationship with Joan Laporta when he was president and he has a fluid relationship with Bartomeu although it has been strained by the president falling out with the player.

When Bartomeu phoned Jorge to tell him that Koeman wanted Messi to be a big part of his new project, Messi senior’s response was: ‘You need to speak directly to Leo.’

In Messi’s view, the best manager he has had by some distance. 

Guardiola built his Barcelona sides around what suited Messi even if that meant playing world-class centre-forwards such as Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and David Villa out of position. 

He even sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic after just one year – despite it having always been his dream to coach the Swede – because he did not fit into a team that played for Messi. 

If this saga was just about who Messi would rather play for then he would be at City in a heartbeat.

Barcelona’s coach has a reputation in football for not caring too much about what players think of him. 

When he went into Valencia in 2007 he told club heavyweights David Albelda, Santi Canizares and Miguel that they were not wanted and when they didn’t leave he had them training alone. 

He has already said that he doesn’t want players who do not want to play for Barcelona so it will be interesting to see how he treats Messi when he turns up on Sunday for his medical checks before they start training. 

Koeman takes on established stars and although he has mellowed since his Valencia days Suarez and Arturo Vidal, who carried plenty of weight in the dressing room at Barcelona, have both been told to leave. 

Vidal, like Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti, who have also been told they are surplus to requirements, are not being given a free transfer. That means, as with Messi, they ought to be at the Joan Gamper training ground on Monday. It will be a firework show for sure and Koeman will have plenty of his own sparklers to hand.

The Teflon president who just seems to keep smiling through every round of in-house mud-slinging that takes place at Barcelona. 

After Messi deposited his transfer request on Tuesday you might have expected Bartomeu to give a press conference or maybe go into hiding but his tactic is to do neither. 

He was present at Francisco Trincao’s presentation press conference but he said nothing, leaving technical director Ramon Planes to answer the questions. His biggest preoccupation has to be leaving Barcelona’s finances in such a state when he stands down as president next March board members can become in some way liable for losses. 

‘I suspect they want to sell Messi,’ said former president Laporta recently. And it would certainly help Bartomeu out if he could get £95m off the wage bill and bring in a sizeable transfer fee for a 33-year-old. 

But he does not want to be the ‘man who sold Messi’ so it’s important that if the player goes it’s on him and not the president. Hence the recent noises about meeting to persuade Messi to stay. Bartomeu would probably not have won the last elections at the club in 2015 had the team not pulled off their unexpected Treble but they did and he won 55 per cent of the votes. 

He would probably not still be in charge now were it not for the pandemic that has left the stadiums empty and made mobilisation against him impossible. He’s a lucky president and he’s still smiling despite Barca becoming the football soap opera that Real Madrid once was.

The technical secretary, which basically means director of football, is supposed to oversee the ins and outs at Barcelona this summer. He replaced Eric Abidal who went complaining of having had more responsibility than real power. 

Planes may find his job similarly tough. He was the one who had to field the questions on Wednesday at the Trincao press conference that became a Q&A session on Messi’s future. It’s a thankless task. 

In theory the 52-year-old who has experience at Espanyol (where he built a lasting friendship with Mauricio Pochettino), Alaves, Getafe and Tottenham is in charge of who stays and who goes but influencing Messi’s future is probably beyond his remit.

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