La Liga president Javier Tebas is preparing himself for what increasingly looks like Lionel Messi’s inevitable exit from Spanish football, while taking a shot at the team tipped to claim the Argentine’s signature, Manchester City.

Messi attempted to engineer a move away from the Camp Nou in August, but agreed to stay when it appeared that acrimony with the club he has represented since he was a boy might only be settled in a courtroom.

However, many observers have suggested that Messi’s decision to remain is little more than a stay of execution and that he will once again try to navigate a path away from Catalonia at the end of the season, when the language in his contract dictates that he can leave the club for free. 

A Messi-less La Liga will certainly be an adjustment (to put it mildly) for Barcelona fans, but from Tebas’ perspective, the league itself will continue to prosper, even without arguably its best-ever player, with the league chief citing the exits of superstars Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo as evidence.

We would prefer Messi to stay in La Liga, but Ronaldo and Neymar left and we have not noticed any difference,” Tebas announced. “We are ready.”

But are Barcelona? Ronaldo Koeman, the man tasked with steadying the ship following Quique Setien’s ill-fated spell in charge, has seen his charges stutter in their initial attempts to prise the title away from Real Madrid, and are without a league win in their last four attempts.

Barca currently languish in eighth position in La Liga, some five points behind arch-rivals Real Madrid and ten behind early pacesetters, Real Sociedad. 

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Should this season prove to be Messi’s last in Spanish football, Tebas estimates that Premiership side Manchester City – helmed by former Barca boss Pep Guardiola – would be the frontrunners to sign him.

But the prospect of this doesn’t sit well with Tebas.

It seems the only club in Premier League that talks about registering Messi is Manchester City, who compete outside the rules. I am not the only one saying this,” Tebas said.

I am not too worried about them. I have criticized what they do so many times. Doing it one more time makes no difference. City is neither affected by Covid or pandemics or anything because they are financed differently and it is impossible to fight against that.”

Messi’s future, though, could well be impacted by the financial plight at Barcelona. It was revealed in July that the club’s debt had doubled to around $579 million. Messi’s annual salary accounts for around $34.5 million, not including bonuses – a figure which, from a pure accounting sense, might be an attractive option to get off the books. 

This suggests, then, that Messi’s impending Camp Nou exit might well be a situation that is best for both parties. For Messi, he gets to challenge himself in a new league for the twilight of his career and Barca could siphon off their biggest earner amid the Covid-related downturn in income. 

But will it work? Messi has struggled in front of goal so far this season in a Barcelona team now mostly absent of the galaxy of stars who contributed so heavily to their skipper’s heyday in Spain. 

Reuniting with Guardiola on the blue side of Manchester could be a shot in the arm not just for Messi, but it could force Barcelona to finally address the stream of departures (Xavi, Iniesta, Suarez et al) which have heavily impacted their fortunes on the field. 

But with their fortunes in their bank account now under question, perhaps it is time for Barcelona – and indeed La Liga – to admit through gritted teeth that Messi’s best-before date has come and gone.