Just how CAN Manchester City afford Lionel Messi?

Man City’s spending is under the microscope after a year of FFP drama, so how CAN they afford Lionel Messi? The £630m release clause needs to be wiped out and he must take a cut on his £95m wages… and that’s just for starters

  • Lionel Messi is continuing to push for his Barcelona departure this summer 
  • He has a year to run on a contract that includes a release clause of £630million 
  • City cannot afford that and so need to see him leave for free or a reduced fee 
  • He would have to take a wage cut to make a reunion with Pep Guardiola happen 
  • Sportsmail looks at all the key issues facing City as they try to finance a deal 

On the surface, the formula is simple: Lionel Messi has told Barcelona he wants to leave, Manchester City want to buy Lionel Messi.

The reality, of course, is rather more muddied. For Messi to become a City player, Pep Guardiola’s side need to vault several financial hurdles and ensure the numbers really do add up.

City’s spending remains under the microscope, even after their European ban for Financial Fair Play breaches was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. And regardless of any fee for the 33-year-old, Messi would not come cheap: his fixed annual salary at Barcelona is £64million, with loyalty and performance-related bonuses taking the package towards £95m.

So can City afford him? Here, Sportsmail assesses how a deal could materialise.

Lionel Messi is continuing to fight his way out of Barcelona to move to Manchester City

But even City owner Sheikh Mansour (centre) cannot pay Messi’s £630m release clause in full


… and the Pope is Catholic, I know. But bear with us. For City and Barcelona would not be quibbling over a few million here or there.

In this deal, it could be the lawyers who ultimately decide whether Messi can leave the Nou Camp or not. The Argentine believes his contract stipulates he can leave for nothing but Barcelona insist any buying club will need to pay a fee. Then there is his release clause, which is £630million.

Not even Sheikh Mansour could afford that. In fact, City are one of the few clubs in world football who could even contemplate a fee of around €100m (£89m). That’s what Juventus paid for Cristiano Ronaldo and that is considered a benchmark for any deal involving his rival, who is now 33.

What looks certain is that Messi would need to accept some form of pay cut on his astronomical wages. City’s current top earner – believed to be Kevin De Bruyne on £350,000 a week – earns less than a third of the Argentine’s basic wage at Barca.

Messi’s father Jorge arrived in Barcelona on Wednesday to try and speed along his departure

Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu is said to be using the meeting to convince Messi to stay


Here is where it gets a bit tricky. This summer, Guardiola has already spent £41m on Nathan Ake and £37m on Ferran Torres.

As reported by Sportsmail this week, City are looking for two more signings, with a right-sided centre back among their priorities.

City want Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly but the Serie A club would likely demand north of £65m. Those deals should not preclude a move for Messi. But funds would need to be found elsewhere.


More than you might imagine, it seems. Football finance expert Kieran Maguire told The Athletic that in recent seasons, with the threat of a European ban hanging over them, City have spent more carefully.

Missing the Champions League for two seasons could have cost them hundreds of millions in revenue and now they are back in the competition, the belt can be loosened a bit more.

Pep Guardiola has already spent £41m on Nathan Ake (pictured) and £37m on Ferran Torres

Messi (right) wants to land a reunion with Guardiola (left) but he would need to lower his financial demands to give the Premier League side any chance of completing a transfer

Coronavirus has hurt teams at every level – with big clubs particularly hit by a lack of matchday income. But for this deal, there could be some hidden benefits for City as Covid-19 has prompted UEFA to relax its spending regulations.

Typically, teams are allowed to lose £26.8m over a three-year period. 

Between 2016 and 2019, while in fear of punishment from UEFA, City actually made an FFP ‘profit’ of around £107m, Maguire claims. But now, thanks to the pandemic, UEFA have decided to count profit and loss over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons combined, giving clubs an extra year to balance the books.


Firstly they can sell players: young defender Eric Garcia could be used as a makeweight in any deal for Messi, while Nicolas Otamendi could leave if City can find a buyer to pay his wages.

Uncertainty reigns over the long-term futures of the likes of John Stones, Angelino and Oleksandr Zinchenko, too, while City have already pocketed David Silva’s wages and £55m for Leroy Sane (plus his wages) following their departures.

Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne are among the club’s most marketable stars right now

It is believed sponsors would pay through the roof in deals with City to associate with Messi

More crucial, perhaps, could be the money Messi helps bring in. The hope will be that with such a superstar in their ranks, City will improve in the Premier League and Champions League. Finishing higher or going further would earn them bigger prizes, as would having more of their games on TV because the likes of Sky and BT Sport want to show Messi on their channels.

Almost all of City’s matches last season were on TV, but every extra game (after the first 10) brings an extra £1million for top-flight clubs, Maguire revealed. Every little helps.

City would also use Messi to boost their commercial revenue, too.

As Maguire told Sportsmail this week, City could implement a ‘Messi tax’ to deals signed by any of their 42 partners because brands would almost certainly pay through the nose to have him commercially associated with their product.

Research showed Cristiano Ronaldo swelled Juventus’ accounts by £46.5m in his first year

‘City’s commercial partners want their product next to a first-team player in a shirt. At present, City can offer them Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne. All excellent footballers,’ he said. ‘Lionel Messi is in a different universe though – Juventus found that when they signed Cristiano Ronaldo.

‘It allows the club to go back to sponsors and say, ‘here’s the deal, it’s going to cost you another couple of million a year if you want Messi’. If you do half-a-dozen of those, it chips away at the additional cost of employing somebody of his ilk.’

According to The Athletic, the arrival of Ronaldo helped swell Juventus’ income by £46.5m in a single year.

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