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Hold the front page: Messi wants out of Barcelona

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AN HOUR AGO

If 2020 hadn’t been eventful enough, last night we moved considerably closer to one of the most gigantic football transfers in football history – certainly since Luis Figo swapped Barcelona and Real Madrid and turned vegan, and likely beyond - with the news that Lionel Messi could actually be leaving Barcelona this summer. Like, really. This may actually be something which now happens.

What is indisputably the greatest club career of all time, generating 634 goals and 33 trophies in 731 games, now looks distinctly under threat following the news leaking out of Catalunya last night that in a meeting with Ronald Koeman, Messi revealed that he does not currently see his future being with Barcelona.

‘End of an era’ is an overused term but it could not more perfectly fit the sensation of seeing Barcelona’s greatest ever player - hell, football’s greatest ever player - leave the club he has played for all his life, since the age of 13. And to think this is happening in the same week that we learn Ian Beale is going to be written out of Eastenders - potentially the only cultural event which would have the same resonance as Messi slinking out of Camp Nou in a funk, his last match being that 8-2 destruction at the hands of Bayern Munich.

As Mike Gibbons wrote on these pages, it was an epochal defeat which would through sheer weight of its deadly gravity have far-reaching consequences. And for Barcelona, the worst possible consequence now appears likely. Coach Quique Setien has gone, director of football Eric Abidal has gone, and now the big one.

News first emerged yesterday afternoon that Messi would be cutting his holiday short to hold talks with new Barca Ronald Koeman, presumably enraptured by the chance to hear the work he did with Theo Walcott at Everton.

And it turns out that interrupting Messi’s hollybobs didn’t work out particularly well for Koeman, as yesterday evening the bombshell dropped when Catalan radio station RAC1 reported that Messi had told Koeman that, like the population of the UK, he was “more out than in”. On which basis The Warm-Up reckons there’s around a 52% chance Messi does end up leaving Camp Nou. And we all know what happens next. Nothing good.

Well, what actually happens next is a firestorm of speculation about which clubs could possibly manage to finance a deal for Messi at the moment, as well as convincingly make a case to the greatest player to have ever played the game that they are the right destination for the biggest career decision he will ever take. A decision which will change the course of football history as we know it.

Mes Que Un Crisis: How Barcelona got here and where they go next

By The Warm-Up’s reckoning there’s likely only Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain who could make this deal happen on a financial level thanks to their access to obscene sources of wealth – and it’s probably only a move to Paris which could satisfy Messi’s status. City are a good team, admittedly, but the fourth or fifth biggest team in England hardly seems like the logical next step for a player like Messi. And not when he could join his great mate Neymar and pretender to the throne Kylian Mbappe in what could be one of football’s most unstoppable attacks.

Anyway, there will be plenty of time for more speculation. For now, just try to get your head around the fact that today, it’s more likely than not that Lionel Messi won’t be a Barcelona player next season. Wow. Wow.

United swooping for Gabriel?

Gabriel walks out for Lille

Image credit: Getty Images

Another player hovering between out and in is Lille defender Gabriel, who had seemed destined for a move to Arsenal only for reported late interest from Manchester United, who are said to have made a move for the Brazilian.

Mind you, it wouldn’t be the first time Manchester United’s name has been thrown into the hat to try and eke out an extra bit of cash and according to The Times this morning, the centre-back has undergone a medical ahead of a £27m switch to Arsenal.

So expect movement on that one soon.

The Lukaku final?

Romelu Lukaku

Image credit: Getty Images

All eyes are on Romelu Lukaku tonight as Inter take on Sevilla in the Europa League final in Cologne at 8pm. The Belgian striker has scored in each of his five games for Inter in the competition, and 10 in a row in total, after forging a deadly partnership with Lautaro Martinez.

He is also one goal away from equalling Ronaldo’s record of 34 goals in all competitions in his debut season for Inter – which is quite fitting given his first memories of European football. “The first final I ever saw, when I was little, was the one between Inter and Lazio for the Uefa Cup in 1998,” he told Tiki Taka in January. “I wanted to play for Inter growing up, because I always admired their great attackers: Ronaldo, [Christian] Vieri and Adriano.”

On a run of 11 in a row, one goal from Ronaldo’s record, one goal from greatness. It’ll happen, won’t it?

IN OTHER NEWS

Is this even legal?

And stand by for some very wholesome football content…

IN THE CHANNELS

Yesterday, Bristol City launched their new goalkeeper kits for next season and made quite the splash on social media. Hardly surprising, when they are an homage to the multicoloured shirt Peter Schmeichel wore during Denmark’s triumph at Euro 92.

RETRO CORNER

It’s been 22 long years since Inter last won Europe’s second-best cup competition. In the 1998 UEFA Cup final they beat Lazio 3-0, thanks mostly to a virtuoso performance from Ronaldo, then arguably at the very peak of his magical powers.

Weeks before the mystery and intrigue surrounding his appearance in the 1998 World Cup final, and a year before the first of his savage knee problems, this was a match which showcased Ronaldo at his unplayable best. A moment in which he was unquestionably the best player in the world.

COMING UP

It’s the Europa League final! Yes, we might take pot-shots at this competition at regular intervals throughout the season but the final could genuinely be good as Sevilla look to again get their hands on a cup they have binged on in recent seasons, while Inter look to win it for the first time since a streak of three triumphs between 1991 and 1998.

Every Monday is a happy Monday when Andi Thomas is on Warm-Up duty.

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