No napkin big enough

Jorge Messi is at the centre of the negotiations.
Jorge Messi is at the centre of the negotiations. / AFP
  • For Lionel Messi to leave Barcelona, a major compromise needs to be made somewhere and a whole load of conditions met

When 12-year-old Lionel Messi agreed to sign for FC Barcelona, a signature on a napkin was enough to seal the deal; now there aren't enough napkins in the world to cover the paperwork. It threatens to be the most complicated legal battle the business of football has ever seen if it is allowed to rumble on.

In many ways it's complex; in others it's so simple.

Let's start with the simple. The great man is hacked off with the way things have evolved at the Camp Nou, his car-share mate is leaving, and he's had enough of carrying the team. This isn't too different to when I left The Queens for rival pub The Avenue. Football can be simple at times.

Messi has always played at Barcelona, his formative years have been in the city, his family reside in a mansion on the coast, his children are educated there, and his wife has developed a business there.

If he moves to Manchester it will mean the first upheaval in his life since he tied himself to Barcelona two decades ago. He'll need to locate a property in Alderley Edge (all footballers seem to live there), his children will have to move schools, learn a new language and he'll have to work out how to get into work.

At Barcelona, he car-shared with Luis Suárez and their wives opened a high-grade shoe shop together. This is where football Gods become suddenly human. I've known one major deal collapse because a footballer's wife couldn't access her friends, sister and hairdresser if she was living abroad. Quite often partners refuse the move to keep the family home and unit together.

Mrs Messi, Antonella, has always kept a low profile and continued her education as he developed his amazing career. The same can't be said for his father Jorge. He was the one who insisted on the napkin contract when Real Madrid were courting his teenage son. He's the one trying to negotiate the exit strategy.

Barcelona have been quieter than most people expected about keeping him. Even the president-elect Víctor Font has been making noises about life without the little magician. The truth is that Barça have a huge 300-million-euro black hole in their finances and one day they must adapt to life without their greatest ever player.

Manchester City would love to add him to their collection but even their owners can't find the buyout of 700 million euros and that fee would give them another Financial Fair Play headache.

So, a compromise needs to be reached. If most of Barça's debt can be cleared by a transfer fee, if City can satisfy his wage demands, if Pep Guardiola wants to inherit the circus and if Messi doesn't have a change of heart then the deal can be struck. Only then can he work out where he lives, what schools his children attend, who teaches them all English, how he gets to training and what days the family hairdresser jets in.

The story continues...