Barcelona’s transfer window could be full of thrills, spills and unmissable drama, with Lionel Messi’s potential blockbuster return setting the news agenda across the world.
The 35-year-old has been in Paris for a couple of years trying to fire PSG to glory in the Champions League, but alongside Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, he has failed to match the expectations of the club’s board and supporters.
A third optional year will not be taken up in Messi’s contract, opening the possibility of a dream return to Barcelona, or a potential money-spinning jaunt to Saudi Arabia – a country the World Cup winner has links to already in an ambassadorial capacity.
Messi’s homecoming would inevitably be the marquee signing for Barcelona as they prepare to build on this season’s La Liga title success, but there’s other irons in the fire as Xavi bids to return Barça to Europe’s top table.
Personal terms have already been agreed with Athletic Club’s Inigo Martinez, with the central defender out of contract at the end of the season and able to join on a free transfer, and there’s a number of other players being linked with the arrivals lounge at Camp Nou.
Here’s 90min’s spin through of how things stand.
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
The one transfer Barcelona are looking to get over the line above all others is that of Lionel Messi – bringing the all-time great back to the club after a two-year stint at PSG.
Whether or not Barça can afford to do so is another story, but the club are leaving ‘no stone unturned’ in their bid to make it happen. Saudi Arabian moneybags Al Hilal have their own aspiration of signing Messi – they are hoping a €400m-a-year contract and the fact he’s an ambassador for the club’s tourism board will swing the pendulum in their favour – but all signs point towards a return to Catalonia.
Crucially, confidence is growing that Barcelona will be able to facilitate Messi’s return in some way and the club hope to announce a deal soon.
Club: Manchester City
Ilkay Gundogan represents a real opportunity for Barcelona to add a winner to their ranks, owing to his success at Manchester City.
Under Pep Guardiola, Gundogan has got used to winning just about everything, and has one eye on ending the club’s wait for a first ever Champions League success. Now 32, he remains one of the first names on the teamsheet, particularly for big games.
Gundogan’s experience could be a perfect guide for emerging stars Pedri and Gavi, while giving Barça a great chance to make their own mark on next season’s Champions League. In terms of a deal materialising, there’s high hopes in Catalonia.
Club: Manchester City
Cash flow is still not great at Barcelona but they can’t take their eyes off Gundogan’s Manchester City team-mate, and creative maestro, Bernardo Silva.
The 28-year-old has made noises about wanting to test himself away from the Etihad and there’s every chance that Barça may look to test the soon-to-be (if they keep winning every game) Premier League champions’ resolve with a cheeky summer bid.
To be successful though, Barça may need to somehow stump up as much as £75m.
Club: Manchester City
The third piece of a Manchester City target trio, Barcelona are also looking at a deal for full-back Joao Cancelo, currently on loan at Bayern Munich.
The Portuguese has established himself as one of the world’s best full-backs in recent years, capable of playing on both flanks and tucking into midfield to provide additional support in central areas. But a rumoured falling out with Pep Guardiola saw Cancelo head for Munich in January, with the Bundesliga giants also having a €70m option to buy.
That amount is regarded as a little steep, meaning a permanent switch is not guaranteed, and Barça, along with Arsenal, are monitoring the situation. In the case of the Catalan giants, a loan is the preferred option.
Barcelona are pretty well stocked in the forward department but there’s been murmurings of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returning to the club on a free transfer.
The Gabonese international left Camp Nou to reunite with former manager Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, but the German was axed a week after Aubameyang arrived on deadline day last summer. He’s barely had a look in since and the Blues are willing to cut ties and get a number of players off their books.
By no means a priority signing, Aubameyang could at least offer up another free transfer option for Barça, and he’s certainly interested in returning.
Club: Athletico Paranaense
There’s plenty of buzz in Brazil around teenage sensational Vitor Roque – the latest in a long line of wonderkid forwards destined to make it big in Europe.
A far better fit for Barcelona than Aubameyang if long-term plans are factored into the equation, 18-year-old Roque is known to be ready for a move. One stumbling block is Athletico Paranaense having the power to demand €60m for the teenager as that’s his release clause, and they’re likely to hold out for a fee close to that because of significant levels of interest from the Premier League.
Barcelona are considered to be at the front of the queue for Roque, who has already played up front for Brazil’s senior side, so it’s now a question of how far will the club’s finances stretch this summer.
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Linked clubs: Arsenal, Aston Villa
It’s been less than three years since Ferran Torres traded Valencia for Manchester City, signing a five-year contract to lead Pep Guardiola’s side into the future.
The Spaniard didn’t manage to showcase what he could do at the Etihad but that didn’t stop Barcelona from forking out a wedge of money to lure Torres back to Spain at the end of 2021. Some 15 months later, he could be on the move again.
Although highly-rated by Xavi, Barcelona need to raise funds this summer through player sales and reduced wages, making Torres’ position at the club vulnerable. He’s not first choice and is a long-term target for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal – Aston Villa are also keen after improving under Unai Emery.
Linked clubs: Newcastle, Chelsea, Arsenal
“This is a lie and whoever said that is a liar, uninformed and unprofessional,” Raphinha recently said when informed of media reports that he’d agreed to allow Barcelona to listen to offers.
But despite the Brazilian’s desire to stay at Camp Nou, the decision may be taken out of his hands if Barcelona want to push through a return move for Messi. The two play in the same position and it’s unlikely he’ll have much sway over a player widely regarded to be the best of all time.
Arsenal and Newcastle like Raphinha, as do Chelsea, but it’s unclear whether or not he’s seen as a preferred target at any of the trio.
Linked clubs: Wolves, West Ham
Ansu Fati was once tipped to be the future of Barcelona, even taking on the club’s famous number ten shirt after Lionel Messi’s departure.
But injuries have hampered the young Spaniard’s progress and he has been usurped in Xavi’s pecking order by a number of other talented players. Indeed, just 11 of his 31 La Liga appearances so far in 2022/23 have been as a starter.
90min understands that Fati has been told he can move on, but moves to Wolves and West Ham, two interested parties, are unlikely to appeal to a player who once had Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea on his coat-tails.
Linked clubs: PSG, Bayern Munich, Newcastle
The fourth winger Barcelona are prepared to sanction an exit for, should the terms be right, is Ousmane Dembele – a player they committed to spending €144m on when negotiating with Borussia Dortmund.
It’s fair to say Dembele has struggled to live up to that billing – any player would unless they are regularly competing for Ballon d’Or wins – amid a catalogue of injury problems. Those have cleared up this season, for the most part, allowing Dembele to find some form under Xavi on both wings.
The Frenchman’s future has been up in the air for years and his latest suitors, Newcastle, could firm up their interest should Champions League qualification be secured. There’s talk of Barcelona wanting to give Dembele a new contract – Xavi is a huge fan – but the situation could change in a heartbeat depending on financial need.
On this edition of Talking Transfers, part of the 90min podcast network, Scott Saunders, Graeme Bailey & Toby Cudworth discuss the possibility of Neymar joining Newcastle, Jude Bellingham’s decision on his future and Lionel Messi leaving PSG.
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