Lionel Messi saw arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo beat him to the Ballon d’Or in Zurich Monday and then reignited speculation over his own future by saying: “I don’t know where I’ll be next year.”
Barcelona and Argentina superstar Messi appeared to row back on his own comments made 24 hours earlier that rumours that he could leave the Camp Nou for Chelsea or Manchester City were “all lies”.
“I always said that I would finish my career at Barcelona and then at (his home town club in Argentina) Newell’s,” Messi told reporters after Real Madrid’s Portuguese icon Ronaldo lifted the world footballer of the year title for the second year in succession at a glittering Fifa awards ceremony.
“But I don’t know where I’ll be next year.
“As Cristiano (Ronaldo) said recently, football has many twists and anything can happen,” added the Barca talisman, who himself won the Ballon d’Or four years in a row from 2009.
After a superb performance in Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Spanish champions Atletico Madrid on Sunday, Messi had angrily dismissed talk that he wanted to leave after clashing with Barca’s manager Luis Enrique and the club’s board.
“I have never demanded anything to ensure that I stay because I never had any intention of leaving,” he told Barca TV after the match.
Messi’s relationship with Enrique had come under scrutiny after the forward was benched for the 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad a week earlier. The rumours grew after Messi missed the first training session after that match, citing a stomach bug.
“I have heard it said that my dad has spoken to Chelsea or Manchester City. It is all lies. I have taken this chance to deny it so that everyone knows the truth,” Messi said Sunday.
But his latest comments are sure to regenerate interest from a number of cash-rich English Premier League clubs.
Manchester United are reportedly one of the few that could afford the buyout fee from his contract, reportedly set at EU€250 million (Dh1.08 billion), without falling foul of Uefa’s financial fair play rules.
With Messi commanding a reported salary in the region of €20m a year the total cost of acquiring his services on a five-year deal could be a world record-shattering €350m.