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Is Lionel Messi Really On The Verge Of Leaving Barcelona For Chelsea?

It’s been an “interesting” start to the new year for FC Barcelona. First, they go and lose 1-0 to a David Moyes (yes, that David Moyes) inspired Real Sociedad on Sunday night, with Messi (and Neymar) on the bench. Then, President Josep Maria Bartomeu sacks former Barca ‘keeper Andoni Zubizarreta from his post as Director of Football for reasons as yet unclear. In response, Carles Puyol resigned as Assistant Sports Director, closely followed by reports that Messi sat out training; Barcelona say he has a stomach virus. Finally, to really top things off, Messi goes and follows Chelsea on Instagram: cue Twitter meltdown.

Unsurprisingly, this perfect sh*t-storm has fueled yet more rumors of a potential mega-transfer for Messi, with all the likely candidates - especially Chelsea - lining up $200m, $300m or $400m offers, depending upon which newspaper you distrust the least. So, is there any truth to it? In the interests of balanced journalism (stop sniggering at the back), and so you don’t have to, The18 has cast its discerning eye over the arguments routinely put forth for why the transfer of the decade could just happen, but probably won’t.

The "Filthy Lucre" Argument

Argument: Leo Messi’s sale would command a $250m+ fee, lining Barca’s coffers and turning a considerable profit on a player they bought for nothing. What’s more, there are plenty of suitors who have the wherewithal to pull off such a deal: Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Bayern Munich or Paris St Germain, for example.

Verdict: It’s clear there’s a market for Messi. All the above-mentioned teams have stacks of cash, while Pep Guardiola sits in Munich and former Barca Technical Director Txiki Begiristain currently resides at Man City, giving each a potential “in.” What’s more, throw in the Adidas angle (Barca are sponsored by Nike, don’t forget) and both United and Chelsea might fancy their chances of creating a head-to-toe, walking, talking, dribbling, goal-scoring Adidas billboard with their German sportswear partners. But what would Barcelona do with all that cash? After all, they’re banned from buying players until 2016, and who out there is capable of making up for the inevitable Messi shortfall?

Likelihood: 5/10

The "Tax" Argument

Argument: Leo Messi is being hounded out of the country by Spain’s tax authorities. Despite already paying a fine of $7 million, courts ruled late last year that Messi and his father will face trial over tax evasion charges. Messi believes he’s being treated unfairly simply because he plays for Barcelona: Castilian sports stars facing similar charges, such as Xabi Alonso (then Real Madrid), Rafael Nadal (Madrid fan) and The Motherf****r (Real Madrid) all got off with a fine.

Verdict: Not implausible. If you felt as though you were the subject of a witch hunt, you’d probably want to leave the country too. But still unlikely.

Likelihood: 6/10

The "Messi’s Fallen Out With The Barca Board" Argument

Argument: Leo Messi isn’t at all enamoured with President Josep Maria Bartomeu, a Vice President under Sandro Rossel, the man thought to have forced Pep Guardiola out of the club. He doesn’t feel as though Barca are doing enough to make him feel loved, and doesn’t believe the men at the top “know football.” The botched acquisition of Neymar in 2013, who was offered a higher salary than the Argentine, is further proof. All this is conspiring to drive Messi towards the exit and shows that Barca’s board may be willing to sell.

Verdict: We don’t buy it. In fact, we think it far more likely that any transfer rumors could be designed simply to place pressure on the men at the top of the Camp Nou, either to force a new deal for Messi (though he only penned a contract extension in 2013) or push the suits out of the club. After all, how many Barcelona fans would vote to re-elect the man who sold - or even threatened to sell - Leo Messi?

Likelihood: 4/10

The "Messi’s Past It" Argument

Argument: Leo Messi is nearing the end of his prime. His current contract expires in 2018, when the great man will be 30. That is the point at which a player of his ilk starts to decline, so Barca need to cash in now while the market’s hot. Instead of Messi, the next Barca generation will be built around the expensively acquired Neymar, who could in fact be better than Messi in the long run.

Verdict: Bollocks. Unmitigated horse sh*t. 2014 was Cristiano Ronaldo’s most prolific calendar year to date at the ripe old age of 29 (he’ll be 30 next month), scoring 61 goals and creating 22 assists. In Messi’s WORST calendar year, he scored 58 goals with 22 assists. He is not a diminishing asset.

Likelihood: 2/10 

The "Messi Hates Luis Enrique" Argument

Argument: The diminutive forward doesn’t rate Luis Enrique. They had a training ground bust-up at the start of the season when Enrique failed to award a free-kick in a practice match, and Messi has labelled the former Barca midfielder as excessively authoritarian. What's more, he's said to be "furious" at starting on the bench against Sociedad. Because of all this, Messi is offski.

Verdict: In a word, weak. If Leo Messi doesn’t get on with a manager, we dare say said manager is the most likely man to be heading for the exit. This isn’t Guardiola vs. Ibrahimovic, this is Messi vs. a man who’s only been in the job six months. What’s more, when Pep was in charge, he’s rumored to have once told Messi to stop consuming fizzy drinks, only for the little scamp to open and promptly down a can of Pepsi right in his face. And they did ok together, I think we can agree.

Likelihood: 2/10

The Kids’ Education Argument

Argument: Leo Messi’s worried about the education his children will receive in Spain, and wants to move to the UK where they will receive the upbringing they deserve.

Verdict: Pure, unadulterated nonsense. Don’t you think Leo Messi, with his mountains of cash and unpaid taxes (we jest), could afford to send his kids to the best educational establishments Spain has to offer, or to an English boarding school if he really wanted to? Do Messi’s children even speak English? Besides, and take it from a man who went through 13 years of England’s schools system, it’s really not that great.

Likelihood: 1/10

So there you go. If you haven’t already cottoned on, we’re not exactly sold on the whole Messi to Chelsea or anyone else angle just yet. In fact, using our completely balanced, wholly objective and mathematically proven transfer rumor algorithm, we’ve calculated that there’s only a 17.84% chance of Messi going anywhere in the near future.

You heard it here first. 

You can follow Robert Gordon (@robert_gordon19) on Twitter right here. Be nice to him.

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