Despite the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s relationships with Sergio Aguero and Pep Guardiola though, he put all speculation of a move to the Premier League to bed by signing an extension with Barcelona until 2021.
The deal also includes one of the highest release clauses in world football, now set at €700 million.
Here, we look at the best XI made up of players with the highest buyout clauses.
GIANLUIGI DONNARUMMA (€100m)*
The AC Milan keeper is only 18, but he’s already regarded as one of the top goalkeeping talents in Europe. He was on the verge of leaving the Serie A giants this summer, before signing a new contract.
RAPHAEL VARANE (€200m)
GERARD PIQUE (€200m)
It’s hard to imagine Gerard Pique ever leaving Barcelona – there’s arguably no player who embodies the spirit of the club more. Even if someone did trigger the release clause, you’d think Pique would choose to stay put.
SERGIO RAMOS (€200m)
What Pique is to Barcelona, Sergio Ramos is to Real Madrid. The fact that they have identical release clauses just completes the parallel.
TONI KROOS (€300m)
Speaking of Madrid players with prohibitively high release clauses, Isco is going to be pretty much untouchable when it comes to transfers. The Spaniard is set to rival Neymar for the tag of the world’s best player whenever Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo pass the torch – and Isco’s release clause is the same as Messi’s.
LUKA MODRIC (€500m)
For what Luka Modric brings to Real Madrid, his release clause may even be undervaluing him. His vision and passing provide the inspiration for the attacking play that services the star names ahead of him.
LIONEL MESSI (€700m)
Messi’s new release clause is over three times the buyout that was in Neymar‘s contract at Barcelona – so even PSG would have to think twice about trying to lure the Argentine away. They may have missed their chance – Messi’s previous release clause was €300million.
GARETH BALE (€500m)
In all likelihood, Real Madrid will end up selling Gareth Bale for far less than his release clause, but in case they hold firm, they’ll get a world-record transfer fee for the Welshman.
CRISTIANO RONALDO (€1bn)
The Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi debate will continue endlessly, but on this score, at least, Ronaldo comes out ahead. Will anyone ever pay €1billion for a player?
KARIM BENZEMA (€1bn)
While others debate whether Karim Benzema is world-class or overrated, Real Madrid made their stance clear long ago by putting the same release contract in his contract as they did in Ronaldo’s.
*Donnarumma’s release clause set at €100m if AC Milan are in the Champions League and €50m if they are not.
For a while there, some may have thought the unthinkable could actually happen. Lionel Messi reportedly rejected a contract extension in the summer, with his current deal expiring at the end of the season. The Barcelona legend, in another club’s colours?
On Saturday, club and player finally came to an agreement, with Messi signing an extension that will keep him at Barcelona until 2021. It allows the Argentinian to further cement his legacy at the only club he’s ever known.
Here are Seven Deadly Stats from Messi’s Barcelona career so far…
A top forward who’s made just over 600 appearances for his club would be delighted with, say, 300 to 350 goals in that time. But Messi has redefined what it means to be a top forward. 523 goals in 602 appearances is an unreal record. It’s hard to imagine anyone hitting that sort of strike rate again.
After scoring 523 goals in 602 games for @FCBarcelona, Lionel Messi has extended his contact at the club. Hopefully now, he’ll finally realise his potential.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) November 25, 2017
ALL-TIME LA LIGA TOP SCORER
Of course, when you’re scoring 523 goals for your club, you’re bound to be breaking numerous records along the way. Messi’s 361 La Liga goals is the record for the competition. Is he going to break the 500 mark by the time he’s done?
#OnThisDay in 2014, The legend #Messi scored a hat-trick & became THE ALL-TIME TOP SCORER in LaLiga history by firing Barcelona to a resounding 5-1 win at home to Sevilla. #WeAreMessi pic.twitter.com/ajXrqDtzQ9— Leo Messi 🔟 (@WeAreMessi) November 22, 2017
You could be the greatest player in your club’s history, but it would still mean a little less if you couldn’t perform against the club’s biggest rivals. Messi has no such concerns – his 24 goals against Real Madrid are the most in El Clasico history, for either team.
WHO’S GOING TO PAY HIS RELEASE CLAUSE?
The new contract sees Messi’s release clause go from €300million to a whopping €700million. That’s enough for three Neymars – with some spare change left over, in case there’s a promising €30million player around.
FYI @celticfc Lionel Messi's new buy out clause is €700m— Deluded Brendan (@DeludedBrendan) November 25, 2017
I'll leave it with you but he'd make great back up for Griffiths and Dembele
HAT-TRICK RECORD: GUNNING FOR RONALDO
Messi has 40 career hat-tricks, 36 of which have come for Barcelona. He and his great rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, each have seven in the Champions League, which is the current record. But in La Liga, Ronaldo holds the record at 32. Messi’s only four behind. His first Barca hat-trick famously came as a teenager against Real Madrid, in 2007.
"THIS IS THE GAME THAT IS GOING TO BE REMEMBERED AS THE LIONEL MESSI MATCH, NINETEEN YEARS OF AGE... HE GETS A HAT-TRICK!" pic.twitter.com/Kj8kja4bB5— Lionel Messi (@MessiTweets_) November 15, 2017
BEST SCORER, BEST PLAYMAKER
Back to that goals-to-game ratio: what would we say about 234 goals in 602 games? Not bad – a little less than a goal every two games, which, for a No. 10, is a very good record.
How about 234 assists in 602 games? That’s what Messi’s done. Yet again, an unbelievable number. And for anyone who’s keeping count, that means he’s been directly involved in 757 goals during his Barcelona career – so, more than a goal or assist per game.
BARCELONA’S MOST SUCCESSFUL PLAYER
Messi made his Barcelona debut in 2004. Since then, he’s won La Liga eight times and the Champions League four times. His overall trophy count? 30, which puts him atop the club’s all-time list, along with Andres Iniesta.
Lionel Messi, if you want to keep things simple, is just a footballer.
Like many others, his job is to kick balls. That’s fairly straightforward. Of course, over the last 15 years he has repeatedly proven that he is one of the very best ball-kickers in the world – if not the best – and as such, he is rewarded with higher wages than other players.
On a very basic level, it’s easy to explain and understand Messi’s new contract with Barcelona, which he finally signed on Saturday nearly six months after it was agreed, on those matter-of-fact terms: he is very good at playing football, and therefore earns more money than other people who play football.
In the current economic climate, Messi’s new wages of around £2million a month are, therefore, ‘worth it’.
For starters, his presence in the Barcelona team for the next four years will greatly help the Catalan side on the field of play in their quest for major honours – right now, indeed, it’s hard to imagine how they could challenge for anything significant without him.
Messi will also add considerable value to the Barca brand in lucrative areas such as sponsorships, TV deals, ticket sales, corporate hospitality, merchandising and pre-season tours.
You can be absolutely that the club’s commercial department will have studied and re-studied and examined and counter-examined all the figures in those areas until their heads were spinning with a whirl of numbers.
Contemporary elite football is very big business and decisions over major expenditures – such as the £100million Barca will pay to Messi over the next four years – are not taken lightly, especially as the squad total wage bill is already higher than it should be.
And the club will have concluded, after several lengthy meetings, conference calls and spreadsheets, that the wages they are paying to their Argentine star represent fair value for the club.
Messi and his entourage will have also thought and long and hard about the compensation levels he is receiving before agreeing to put pen on paper.
They are fully aware that Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain would have eagerly snatched any opportunity that might have presented itself to secure Messi’s services, and the player’s father Jorge will have been careful to make sure that his son was not selling himself short. Because for the Messis, as much as for FC Barcelona, this contract is a business transaction.
If you wish, you can view the confirmation of Messi’s new contract to stay at Barcelona until the summer of 2021 purely in those cold, hard, financial terms. It is a deal which makes sense for both sides, and we could just leave it at that.
But, if you want to really understand what’s going on, you have to look a little deeper. And that’s because in addition to being a footballer, Messi is also a human being. And in addition to being Barca’s club president, Josep Maria Bartomeu is also a human being.
Human beings are not entirely rational. Whether we like it or not, we are also driven by impulses, desires and personal motivations – emotions – which don’t always ‘make sense’ on a purely objective level.
These emotions drive our behaviour all the time, and they have also driven the behaviour of Messi and his club in their negotiation and agreement of this contract.
Let’s start with the player. Messi, it’s almost certain, could have earned a lot more than £500,000 per week if he had decided to chase dollar signs rather than follow his heart.
In January he would have been available on a free transfer, and as PSG were prepared to spend £200million – double the amount Messi will be earning between now and 2021 – purely to sign Neymar, never mind his salary on top, it’s hard to imagine just how much they would have been willing to hand to Messi as a ‘golden handshake’.
Certainly they would have valued Messi, on a free transfer, at more than £100million over the course of four years, and if Messi’s only priority was money he would now be biding his time until 1st January before boarding his private jet on a secret flight to Paris or Manchester.
Similarly, from the club’s point of view it would have been easy to argue that now is the time to allow Messi to leave, or at least tie him to a much shorter contract, because the £2million a month he’ll be earning for the next four years could soon start to offer questionable value for money.
Messi is now 30 years old. When his newly-signed contract expires he will be 34. He has been playing brutally competitive football week after week, virtually without a break, since he was 18.
Although there occasional exceptions, it’s enormously unusual for any player in those circumstances to continue to perform a central role in a top-class team beyond the age of 31 or 32 – even the super-fit Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, is now being regularly rested and has been given a new, less physically demanding, role in the Real Madrid team.
It would be great to think that Messi will continue to play 60 games a year until he’s 34, but that probably won’t happen. Far more likely is that he’ll follow the same path as Andres Iniesta and Xavi, who became more peripheral figures after moving into their 30s – still great when they play, but suffering more regular injuries and needing more regular breaks.
So Barca, being cold and objective, could have easily looked at those figures now and concluded: OK, Messi is worth £2million a month right now. But in 2020 he probably won’t be. So we offer him two years now, and then we renegotiate. Otherwise, no deal.
Being aloof and analytical, Messi maybe should have left to earn more elsewhere. Barca maybe should have allowed him to leave and spent the money elsewhere.
But those things didn’t happen because, as football is conducted by emotional human beings, money is not everything.
Messi transcends money, and Barca know it. As Ivan Rakitic noted earlier in the week, he is part of the club’s badge – not literally, but metaphorically, FC Barcelona means Lionel Messi. In our shared global consciousness, the two cannot be separated.
Rakitic: I can't say 100 percent Messi will stay. I know fans want to see the photograph and the handshake. I do, too. He knows we want him here, he's unique. He's part of the Barça badge.— Samuel Marsden (@samuelmarsden) November 21, 2017
For everything he has done, Messi has become an icon, a symbol. If Barca are more than a club, he is more than a player, and his presence in any team cannot be measured in financial terms alone. His presence evokes those strange things…emotions…which are the most valuable in human life.
Bartomeu, therefore, could never have survived becoming the man who allowed Messi to walk away from Barcelona, and he was duty-bound to keep the player at the club even if it meant giving him a contract which might prove to be over-valued by the time it comes to an end.
And from Messi’s point of view, how could he leave Barcelona? It’s the club which has given him everything, starting with expensive hormone injections when he was a scrawny young kid from Argentine with big dreams but a small stature.
Playing for Barcelona has allowed Messi to fully develop and expose his talents on the world’s biggest stage, in Europe’s biggest stadium. It has allowed him to play with Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Neymar, Luis Suarez, and win four Champions League titles.
Barca might not be a perfect club but it is, unquestionably, his club, and the thought of him running out at the Parc des Princes wearing the dark blue shirt of PSG will have been as strange and uncomfortable for Messi as it is for the rest of us.
And so, despite everything, Messi decided to stay and Barca decided to keep him, even though both parties could have obtained better financial transactions with his departure.
He has stayed because emotions overruled finances. And as we are all guided by similar emotions, that’s surely something to celebrate.