Thursday night’s announcement that Lionel Messi is to leave Barcelona would normally have had Manchester City’s transfer klaxons blaring at full volume.
The fact that the Blues have continued serenely on with the business of getting the £100million Jack Grealish deal over the line, and turning their focus on doing the same with Harry Kane, suggests that is not the case.
City’s hierarchy have always had a quiet confidence that if Messi ever DOES leave Barca — and that is still a big if despite last night’s drama – they would be at the head of the queue to sign him.
As one of few squads that could guarantee the brilliant Argentine more silverware in the twilight of his career, as well as meet his astronomical wage demands — and offer him a Catalan home-from-home in Manchester with ex-boss Pep Guardiola, and executives Ferran Soiriano and Txiki Begiristain all in situ — that confidence is not misplaced.
Last summer Messi seemed to be on the brink of quitting the Nou Camp, and at that point City truly were pulling out all the stops to get him.
Harry Kane, Jack Grealish, Lionel Messi
(Image: Getty Images and Manchester City FC)
In the end, Messi said his family had persuaded him to stay and see out the final year of his contract, and the notion that he would join the Blues was dead.
Even then, not many believed that Messi would end up in sky blue. City’s top brass are only too aware of the political machinations at Barca which make the White House look like a kindergarten.
They pursued Messi then in hope rather than expectation, so there was no real disappointment when it did not happen.
Guardiola has consistently said that he believes Messi will finish his career at Barca, and that belief does not seem to be wavering now.
Of course, Messi is a year older than last summer, at 34, even if there is little sign of his astonishing talent diminishing. But he would also be available on a free transfer after his contract expired.
And a player who, it is estimated, brings in roughly three times the amount of commercial revenue via shirt sales and other merchandising as he costs in wages, he would still be an attractive move for City both from a football and a business viewpoint.
The fact they do not seem to be pushing the boat out for him does not mean they are not interested, but rather that they do not feel he will leave.
The fact that they handed Grealish the No.10 shirt yesterday after completing his British record move is significant in itself.
No way would the Blues have done that had they felt that Messi would be rocking up at the Etihad Stadium next week.
To suggest City might have been taken by surprise by Barca’s announcement is naïve in the extreme. If Messi truly was intent on leaving his lifelong club and coming to Manchester, his camp would have been in touch long before now.
The announcement smacks of a political move, aimed at pressurising La Liga into relaxing the salary cap rules that are wrecking Barca’s strategy.
City are not commenting on the matter, publicly or privately, but will certainly be watching developments, with a cynical eye, but this will not deflect them from the principal aim of bedding in Grealish and now landing Kane.