It is difficult to imagine Lionel Messi playing for a club other than Barcelona, but rumours that the Argentine’s time in Catalunya is approaching an end have intensified over the summer – with the superstar now having informed his club of his desire to leave.

This has been fuelled by the fact that Barca have endured a truly dismal season, one which saw the club miss out on La Liga glory before being dumped ignominiously out of the Champions League.

Off-field issues related to club politics haven’t helped matters either, with Messi being uncharacteristically vocal about pronouncements that have been made by some sporting directors.

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With his contract set to expire in 2021 and no guarantee that fresh terms will be signed, it is possible that Barcelona could look to cash in on a player universally deemed one of the best to have played the game.

So how much would it cost to buy Messi? Goal takes a look at the forward’s contract clause.

What is Lionel Messi’s release clause?

Lionel Messi’s contract buyout clause (or release clause) is €700 million (£630m/$825m). The hefty clause was put in place when Messi signed a new four-year contract with Barcelona in 2017. That deal expires in 2021.

Prior to that, Messi’s buyout clause was €300 million (£270m/$355m), and the increased figure was arrived at after Paris Saint-Germain forked out €222 million (£198m/$262m) to trigger Neymar’s release.

But though his contract is set to expire at the end of the 2020-21 season, Messi and his legal team believe the clause will allow him to terminate his deal unilaterally – allowing him to leave for free before it ends.

“Lionel was always very happy at Barca and we want him to retire here, as he wishes,” Barcelona director Guillermo Amor explained when Messi penned a new deal in 2017. “We are talking about the clause and with Neymar’s experience we must protect ourselves.”

If a club wished to buy the six-time Ballon d’Or winner and they could afford it, they could make a bid of €700m, which Barcelona would have no choice but to accept.

Such a transfer fee would shatter the world record set when PSG bought Neymar, though it is highly unlikely to ever transpire, particularly with Messi being subject to the same effects of time as everyone else.

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Considering the state of play with Messi’s contract expiring within a year, if the Argentine really wanted to leave, it is more likely that Barca would be left with little choice but to accept a bid lower than the clause.

Indeed, the tremors of the coronavirus pandemic have yet to be truly felt in the football transfer market, but the expectation is that fees are likely to drop on average.

Which clubs could sign Lionel Messi?

While most clubs in the world would like to sign Lionel Messi, only a select few would realistically be able to afford him. Even if Messi left Barca on a free, his wages at any new club would require deep pockets.

Manchester City, Inter and PSG are the main clubs touted as potential destinations for Messi.

The fact that Pep Guardiola, who worked with Messi during his time at Camp Nou, is managing City is seen as a major plus for the Premier League side, with one pundit suggesting Messi was like Guardiola’s son.

Inter, meanwhile, have consistently indicated their intention to bring the Argentine to San Siro and former Nerazzurri director Massimo Mirabelli has suggested that it is very much a possibility.

“I can assure you that Messi is more than a dream for Inter,” Mirabelli told Radio Sportiva. “He now has only a year left on his contract and Barca don’t want to risk losing him for free next summer.”

Despite the speculation linking Messi away from the club, however, new Barca boss Ronald Koeman is hopeful of convincing the talisman to remain at Camp Nou.

“It’s up to me to find a way we get the best out of Messi, that he’s happy here and that he feels important,” Koeman told NOS. “He’s the captain and he should end his career at Barcelona. Messi is Barcelona and Barcelona is Messi.”

What is a buyout or release clause?

In football, a buyout clause – sometimes referred to as a release clause – is a clause in a footballer’s contract which indicates a transfer asking price that, if met in a bid, must be accepted by a club.

The fee is usually set considerably higher than a player’s perceived market value in order to act as a deterrent to potential bidders, but can sometimes be relatively low in order to encourage bidders.

Buyout clauses have been mandatory aspects of footballers’ contracts in Spain since 1985.

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