Lionel Messi is the closest he has been to leaving Barcelona but that doesn't mean he will because of the club's desire to keep him and massive financial implications, says Guillem Balague.
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The Argentina forward missed an open training session on Monday, sparking rumours of a potential exit from the Catalan giants.
Messi is reportedly unhappy with the running of the club by head coach Luis Enrique and the Barcelona board, with the club announcing on Wednesday that they will hold new presidential elections over the summer – a year earlier than scheduled.
Rumours of a move to Chelsea gathered momentum when Messi followed the club on social media, but Sky Sports’ Spanish football expert Balague says he may well stay and even if he does leave, Chelsea probably can’t afford the total cost of luring him away from Camp Nou.
"There are not many clubs that could fork out about £400million, which would be his buyout clause and his wages"
“He has never been as close as this to leaving,” said Balague. “That doesn’t mean he is going to leave.
“What I mean is that it’s a possibility that has not only entered his mind – Barcelona were thinking of selling him about six, seven months ago.
“All that has been a possibility and still is a possibility – of course there are clubs that approached Messi’s family to see if they would be willing to go, especially from the Premier League.
“There are not many clubs that could fork out about 690 million euros, which would be his buyout clause and his wages – PSG and Real Madrid, some say Chelsea but I’m not sure, certainly Manchester City – but the fact he’s never been this close to leaving doesn’t mean he will leave.”
Barcelona held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, when it was confirmed the elections had been brought forward, and president Josep Maria Bartomeu addressed Messi's future.
"Messi has a contract until 2018, he is happy with the club and wants to win more titles," he said. "There is nothing to panic about in that regard. Messi is the central figure. The team is built around him.
"The whole footballing world knows that Barca don't want to sell Messi. For me he is the best player in the world."
Balague says the elections bring added certainty that Messi will be going nowhere soon.
He said: "Basically now they feel they are weak. They are going to have elections in the summer and they are not in a position to sell him. Imagine if they tried to sell him now by the time they get to the elections, they will kill them.
"The idea is that Messi will be the axis, the centre of the future for Barcelona...for as long as he is the president. But I am pretty sure the candidates, in the summer, will be saying exactly the same.
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"They don't want to upset Lionel on one hand, and the fans on the other. So it seems, despite all the talk, despite all the absolutely true interest from Chelsea, from PSG and Manchester City, first Barcelona are unwilling to sell and second if they wanted to buy him using his buyout clause, you will need a lot of money.
"But you have to say he has never been closer to leaving because he sees the grass is greener somewhere else. He has problems with the club, problems with the board and is not happy with the way the team is playing."