It could be the case that Lionel Messi has played his final Champions League match for Barcelona at Camp Nou.
Kylian Mbappe scored a hat-trick that inspired Paris Saint-Germain to a 4-1 win on Tuesday night and a result which meant Messi took a step closer to the exit door.
A large part of his reason for considering a transfer last summer was that he wants to win the Champions League again and - given Barca’s situation on and off the field - he told them he could not see that happening any time soon.
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His suspicions were realised as Mbappe’s treble saw them humiliated again in Europe and now we must wait to see if Messi’s patience has run out.
We must also wait to see if this leads to Messi and Mbappe swapping leagues. If Mbappe leaves PSG, Messi is seen as the player who could replace him.
Ony two real contenders for Messi
There are only two clubs realistically able to sign Messi if he does change direction in the summer and PSG know they will have to battle with Manchester City if they try to win his signature.
There are many factors that will make up his mind on where to go and while it is certain that he is on the radar of both clubs, there is plenty still to play out.
First of all, it is not yet certain that Mbappe even leaves PSG. Yes, he has always dreamed of joining Real Madrid and, yes, Florentino Perez is ready to pursue a transfer if they are given the green light to indicate he is available.
But PSG are about to pick up again on discussions over a contract extension in the coming weeks and there is a growing feeling Mbappe could yet be tempted to stay. PSG would be willing to pay the player a higher salary than any other club but, more than that, it could be the place he has the best chance of achieving European success and continuing his incredible progress towards becoming the best player in the world.
Mbappe enjoys life in the French capital and while his current contract expires in 2022, it is felt he might yet sign a new deal on new terms. Such an agreement might even include a window for him to move to Madrid down the line, if he needs to scratch that itch.
Mbappe deal takes priority over Messi signing for PSG
A new contract for Mbappe is a higher priority than the signing of Messi. And with Neymar very close to an announcement that he is staying at PSG for another five years, we should remember it would be almost impossible to have Messi on the same wage bill as him and Mbappe.
We also should take into account that PSG are going to try to sign other players in the summer. They are planning to get Moise Kean from Everton on a permanent deal, and still have Tottenham's Dele Alli and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos on the radar as significant targets if they become available.
With all that in mind, maybe Manchester City would make a more realistic landing spot for Messi.
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His next move will not be motivated by money but by that desire to win another Champions League. He will be looking for a well run club, under good leadership, that will challenge for domestic and European silverware. City tick the boxes.
He knows director of football Txiki Begiristain from Barca and he knows boss Pep Guardiola from his days in Spain too, obviously. The set-up of the team, with a fluid attacking approach, would suit him. And City currently look like running away with the Premier League title while attempting to land the Champions League trophy for the first time.
The bonus here is that they could also offer him a path into MLS - one he wants to take before hanging up his boots - with their sister club New York City Football Club.
Mbappe holds the key to any summer moves
Messi’s body language on Tuesday night made clear his frustration at how this current Barcelona crop are just not able to help him remain at the very top of the game. Even some of the club’s own supporters seem accepting in the fact he should move on.
If PSG lose Mbappe, they will try to sign Barca’s superstar. He’s open to it - but Mbappe holds the keys.
He is the game's new superstar and it seems fitting that Mbappe’s decision over his own future will now have a huge say in how the next stage of Messi’s career can open up.
If Mbappe opts to stay in Paris, Manchester could be Messi’s only realistic next destination.
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