Manchester City are preparing a world record move for Lionel Messi should the five-time world footballer of the year continue to delay signing a new contract with Barcelona. The Argentina superstar has agreed in principle a new four-year deal with the Catalan giants but has yet to yet to put pen-to-paper.
Over three months have passed since Barca claimed to have an agreement in place and despite Messi's father having purportedly signed the deal on behalf of his son the player himself is yet to have his photograph taken with president Josep Maria Bartomeu, leading to speculation the deal until 2021 is not yet finalised.
Messi, aged 30, is free to speak to rival clubs from overseas from 1 January 2018 when he enters the final six months of his contract at the Nou Camp. Barcelona appear calm over the situation but Marca understand that City are preparing to make a €400m [£358m] offer to bring the former Newell's Old Boys youngster to the club during the mid-season transfer window.
Current City boss Pep Guardiola played a key role in developing Messi from an impressive youngster into one of the greatest players of the modern era. As Barcelona manager and with Messi leading his attack, Guardiola won 14 major honours until he moved to Bayern Munich in 2013.
Since Guardiola left Barcelona Messi has continued to break records, including becoming the club's all-time highest scorer, but the chance to reunite with the coach under whom he transformed into a global star might be too good an opportunity to turn down, particularly against the backdrop of political uncertainty on and off the field in Catalonia.
Guardiola has admitted that Messi's days at Barcelona could be numbered and that in an era when Paris Saint-Germain activated Neymar's €222m [£198m] release clause, anything is possible. "I don't know," he said. "Someone might if they have the money and want to spend it. It might happen."
Bankrolled by Sheikh Mansour, City are one of the few clubs in world football capable of offering Barcelona and Messi the financial package required to make the deal a possibility. Since the United Arab Emirates deputy prime minister took over in 2008, nearly £1bn has been spent purely on new players, on top of investment in various areas of infrastructure such as the City Football Academy and the expansion of the Etihad Stadium.