Barcelona

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on January 11, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi discusses his Barcelona future

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Lionel Messi has addressed speculation linking him with a move away from the only club he has ever known.

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Messi, 29, has been at Barcelona since the age of 13 and the Argentine superstar has won every possible trophy with the Catalan giants, plus has been crowned the World Player of the Year on five occasions.

Time for a new challenge?

Reports had suggested that Barcelona have wanted to start talks over a new contract with Messi for quite some time but with just 18 months left on his current deal, Messi and his representatives are yet to hold talks.

“I have always said that Barcelona has given me everything and I am here for as long as they want me to be,” Messi said in Coach magazine.

Hmm.

Messi also spoke about his former manager and mentor, Pep Guardiola, and his challenging start to life in the Premier League as manager of Manchester City.

“It is a very competitive league, last season showed that, so it makes it very difficult to predict,” Messi added. “Of course Pep is a very successful coach, he will be adjusting to the league, but I am sure that he will be successful.”

Will Messi be part of Pep’s success at City?

It is obvious Barca will want him to stay but if a huge offer comes in for Messi from Man City this summer, or others in the Premier League, then surely he will think twice about it.

If Pep can coax Messi to join him at City, who can clearly afford him, then it would be another glittering star in their attacking line. That said, if Guardiola is going to be successful then he’ll have to add plenty more quality in defense as City currently sit 10 points off leaders Chelsea with 17 games to go in the PL season.

La Liga & Serie A: Barca blasts five past Las Palmas and more

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 14:  Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona celebrates with his team mate Lionel Messi after scoring his team's first goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and UD Las Palmas at Camp Nou stadium on January 14, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 5-0 Las Palmas

The visitors never stood a chance on Saturday, and Barcelona showed once again just how dangerous they can be when firing on all cylinders. The Blaugrana saw goals from four different goalscorers pace Luis Enrique’s side, including a brace from Luis Suarez.

Despite only going into the halftime break with a 1-0 lead, Barcelona immediately expanded its advantage to 4-0 in the second stanza after finding the back of the net three times in a span of seven minutes. Lionel Messi, Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal all scored for Barca, who now sit two points behind league leaders Real Madrid.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Real Betis

Nicolas Gaitan scored the game’s lone goal as Atletico solidified its spot in the top four against Betis. The visitors managed twice as many shots on target (6), however, it wasn’t enough for Betis to break past goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya. Diego Simeone’s Atleti are six points behind Real at the top of La Liga, while Real Betis currently sits 14th on 21 points.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 0-0 Athletic Bilbao
Deportivo La Coruna 0-0 Villareal

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Valencia vs. Espanyol (6 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Alaves (10:15 a.m. ET)
Granada vs. Osasuna (12:30 a.m. ET)
Sporting Gijon vs. Eibar (12:30 a.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Real Madrid (2:45 p.m. ET)


Inter Milan 3-1 Chievo Verona

The hosts needed a strong second half performance to mount a comeback and Inter managed to get just that on Saturday. After falling behind 1-0 in the first half by way of a Sergio Pellissier finish, Inter stormed back after the break on three separate occasions. Mauro Icardi, Ivan Perisic and Eder all scored inside of the final 21 minutes to move the Milan side into seventh place. Stefano Pioli’s side currently sits 13 points behind league leaders Juventus.

Crotone 0-1 Bologna

Crotone remains at the bottom of Italy’s top flight courtesy of Blerim Dzemaili’s second-half strike. Bologna moved up to 14th in the table on 23 points while Crotone sits on nine points through 19 Serie A matches. Bologna has now won four of the last five meetings against Crotone in all competitions.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Cagliari vs. Genoa (6:30 a.m. ET)
Lazio vs. Atalanta (9 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Pescara (9 a.m. ET)
Sampdoria vs. Empoli (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
Udinese vs. Roma (9 a.m. ET)
Fiorentina vs. Juventus (2:45 p.m. ET)

Report: Man City, Man United, Chelsea in contact with Messi

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 01:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona (C) volleys during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Manchester City FC and FC Barcelona at Etihad Stadium on November 1, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi is, and always will be, a wanted man.

[ MORE: Costa dropped by Chelsea ]

Messi, 29, is contracted to Barcelona until the summer of 2018 but he is yet to open up contract talks with Barca even though the club would like to tie him down to a long-term deal which would likely see him end his career at the Nou Camp as a one-club man.

That said, reports have emerged that Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have not given up hope of enticing Messi to the Premier League as he has 18 months left on his current deal.

Sky Sports’ Spanish soccer expert Guillem Balague says that the Premier League trio have been in touch with the five-time World Player of the Year about joining them instead of extending his deal with Barca.

“I do think he will renew his contract but a lot of things are leaving the door open for him to think, ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ Of course, that has pricked the ears of all the football powerhouses. Pep Guardiola has kept saying Messi should retire at Barcelona but I know Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are sending messages to Messi saying, ‘We are here if you ever think of leaving Barcelona.'”

In the immortal words of Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance… Yeah!”

Well, we all know it is highly-likely that Messi will remain at Barca for the rest of his career but amid a Barca official being fired for talking out against the Argentine playmaker, plus the investigation into allegations of tax fraud against the Messi family by the Spanish authorities which saw him handed a 21-month suspended prison sentence, maybe he will fancy a change for the final few years of his career?

Yeah, it’s unlikely, but the Premier League big boys can certainly afford to pay him the same wages Barca can and if Messi allows his contract to run into its final year then the transfer fee would obviously be lower.

Barcelona fires staffer after Lionel Messi remarks

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on January 11, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Barcelona has taken action against an executive who made comments about superstar Lionel Messi on Friday.

Messi’s future at Barcelona is under a microscope thanks to a La Liga salary cap. With Neymar and Luis Suarez both signing big-money extensions, the club is trying to scale down Messi’s contract extension to stay under the 70% wage bill cap.

When asked about Messi’s contract situation at the Copa del Rey draw on Friday morning, Pere Gratacos, the club’s director of institutional relations with the Spanish federation, said, “Leo is one of the most important people in the team, but it’s not just about him. He would not be as good without [Andres] Iniesta, Neymar and company, but Messi is the best.”

Apparently, suggesting Messi’s teammates make him better is a fireable offense. Barcelona announced that Gratacos was removed from his position, although he will still work in his other position at the club as an executive with the La Masia 360 project.

“Pere Gratacos has been dismissed from his role as director of institutional relations for having publicly expressed a personal opinion that does not coincide with that of the club after the draw for the quarterfinal of the Copa del Rey,” Barcelona said in a statement. “The decision was made by Albert Soler, who will take on these responsibilities directly from now on. Pere Gratacos will continue to be linked to Barcelona by working on the La Masia 360 project which is already underway.”

Finally, an answer to “Why hasn’t Messi signed a new contract?”

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 18:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at the Camp Nou stadium on December 18, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi’s current Barcelona contract has just 18 months left to run before expiration, which means, in theory in theory in theory, every soccer club in the world could be competing with one another to sign Messi as an impending free agent 12 months from right now.

[ MORE: PST Extra — Who has the edge between Man Utd, Liverpool? ]

The question, “How in the world have Barcelona allowed his contract to creep that close to expiring?” has been a hot topic for discussion going on a full year now. Finally, a concrete answer has emerged, as Barcelona chief executive Oscar Grau connected a pair of dates this week: the La Liga rule that stipulates a club can spend no more than 70 percent of its annual budget on player wages, and an admission that offering Messi (current contract: $23 million) a new contract right now — so shortly after re-signing Neymar and Luis Suarez ($26.5 million) — would put the club over that 70-percent threshold. Oops.

Here’s Grau with the meat-and-potatoes explanation — quotes from the Guardian:

“Barcelona has to analyse this situation with a cold head and common sense. Barca can’t exceed 70 percent of its budget on wages and therefore we have to make the numbers add up.”

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Translation: Barcelona have to, either: 1) create an additional revenue stream that’ll generate tens of millions of dollars in order to offer a contract befitting the greatest player of all time; or, 2) convince Messi that he makes enough money through endorsements and other ventures, thus he can afford to take the “hometown” discount in order to make the numbers work.

Ahem. Good luck with no. 2, Barca.