FOUR-TIME world footballer of the year Lionel Messi raised the pulses of Chelsea fans – as well as eyebrows throughout the game – this week when he seemed to hint at a blockbusting switch to west London.
Fittingly for this social media age, his apparent interest in ditching the Blaugrana for the Blues emerged on Instagram when he started following Chelsea and a number of their players.
Yet a closer look at the eye-watering figures likely to be involved in such a transfer reveal how difficult it would be even for the billionaire-backed Stamford Bridge outfit to land the Argentina No10.
The cost of signing Messi can be broken down into three components: the fee paid to Barcelona for his registration, a commission paid to the players representatives and the salary.
Messi’s current market value is estimated at £172m by the CIES Football Observatory, part of the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, which predicts fees using a complex algorithm based on five years of data.
That amount is double the world record sum Real Madrid paid Tottenham for Gareth Bale in 2013 but tallies with figures mentioned in recent reports of renewed interest from Paris Saint-Germain.
For the sake of caution and simplicity, we will use £170m. Agents’ fees are typically around 12 per cent on top, which in this case would equate to £20.4m.
Messi is believed to earn around £16m annually (£308,000 per week) at Barca. Assuming any buyer would have to offer at least a modest increase, he could expect to bank £16.9m (or £325,000 weekly).
A five-year contract at that rate plus a £170m fee and agent’s commission would stand to set Messi’s suitors back around £275m in total.
Even setting aside the agent fee, that is £255m over five years, or an accounting cost of £51m per year, as transfer fees are spread over the length of their contract for book-keeping purposes. For comparison, Chelsea’s biggest summer signing Diego Costa costs them £16m per year in accounting terms.
European financial fair play rules imposing limits on how much clubs spend therefore make this deal one for only the very richest.
Chelsea may have achieved revenues of £320m last season in part due to canny trading but cannot compete with Europe’s elite, Real Madrid (2013-14 revenue: £475m), Bayern Munich (£415m) and, despite their wobbles, Manchester United (£433m).
Add to that the fact that Barcelona’s transfer embargo until 2016 would prevent them from replacing their record-breaking superstar, and a move looks even less likely.
Yet there are signs that he may be restless – rumours of tension with coach Luis Enrique, disillusionment at the club’s decline since the all-conquering reign of Pep Guardiola – and even the Catalan institution could find themselves forced to consider cashing in.
Messi’s Instagram gambit will only strengthen his hand, perhaps prompting Barca to change managers and flushing out interest from admiring clubs. Whether Chelsea can match them is another matter.