Decision time looms for Lionel Messi as Xavi holds door open for Barcelona return

Current manager wants former teammate back at club but player must decide whether to put emotional homecoming before bigger pay day in US or Saudi Arabia

Lionel Messi's contract with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain ends on June 30. AFP
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After Sunday’s final home league game of a title-winning season, Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez was asked about the prospect of Lionel Messi returning to Camp Nou next season.

Barca fans had once again sang Messi’s name during a match, as they have done for much of this year since their greatest player was linked with a return back to the club where he was a first-team player for 17 years.

In February, Messi’s father was spotted meeting Barca officials the night before Barcelona drew with Manchester United. On Sunday, Messi was back in the city where the family home is and where his children grew up, to watch Coldplay at Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium.

“For me, there is no doubt that if Messi returns, he will help us in a football sense,” said Xavi. “That’s what I’ve let the president know and I have no doubts that he will help us. Because he continues to be a decisive footballer, because he’s still hungry and still a winner. Because he’s a leader and because he’s also a different player.

“We don’t have a Barca with the talent at the level of the 2010 side, for example, and what would Messi give you? He would give you talent, the final pass, dead ball, goals. In the final third he’s a different player.

“I think Leo is calling the shots at the moment, I don’t have any doubt. I’m talking to him. It’s true that we’ve won in the post-Messi era and that has extraordinary merit. With the relationship I have with him, I stay very clear: he has the door open here.

“If he wants to come, I have no doubt as a manager, none. In the last few days you’ve asked me in press conferences and I think it basically depends on his personal decision.”

Messi, 35, will become a free agent when his contract with Paris Saint-Germain expires on June 30. He and his family were long settled in their home by the beach south of Barcelona and he was a hero at Camp Nou where he won ten league titles and four Champions Leagues – though he would not be returning to play at his old stadium since Barcelona will relocate for two season to the ground where he was watching Coldplay on Saturday.

The National understands that if Messi wants to maximise his earnings then Barcelona will not be the best move for him. There has been interest from the United States and Saudi Arabia in his services, and there was more optimism that Messi would return to Barcelona a month ago than there is now.

Barca are also much changed from the team he left, with his former teammates and close friends Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba leaving the club after this weekend’s final league game at Celta Vigo. Barca, with pressing financial issues and a massive stadium redevelopment to oversee, would not be able to pay Messi anything like the money he received before he left in 2021, but, as Xavi says, it is up to the man himself to decide.

Updated: May 31, 2023, 7:32 AM