Only two clubs can sign Lionel ‘Leo’ Messi outright and fulfill Financial Fair Play regulations, according to a finance expert. They are Real Madrid and Manchester United but even they will have to strive hard to pay Messi’s wages without breaking UEFA’s rules. The rest of Europe’s top clubs will have to stagger a payment over a number of years to meet the massive £170m valuation. “With the revenue they generate and cash reserves, only United and Real Madrid could pay the fee,” said Rob Wilson of Sheffield Hallam University. “With salary costs probably even they couldn’t stay within FFP.”

Which football clubs can afford to buy Barca striker Messi
World’s most valuable players

220m Euros (£172.43m) Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

133m Euros (£104.24m) Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

99m Euros (£77.60m) Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

84m Euros (£65.84m) Diego Costa (Chelsea)

72m Euros (£56.43m) Paul Pogba (Juventus)

65m Euros (£50.95m) Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Messi’s contract does not expire until 2019 and Wilson said it is highly doubtful that Barcelona would accept a staggered transfer payment. “Unless Messi absolutely wanted to get out of the club, why would Barcelona agree to that? “Staggering the payments would certainly make it easier for Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG and Bayern Munich but Manchester United demanded the fee up front when they sold Cristiano Ronaldo and I strongly suspect it would be the same for Messi,” Wilson said.

There is no suggestion Real Madrid are interested in repeating the controversy created by their decision to sign Luis Figo from Barcelona in 2000. But Messi, 27, has been the subject of increasing speculation. He was surprisingly left out of the Barcelona starting line-up for the defeat at Real Sociedad, later began following Chelsea on Instagram and his future was the subject of an unclear comment by coach Luis Enrique. Yet the days when clubs solely had to decide whether they could afford a financial package for a player are over.

World’s richest clubs (turnover)

£444.7m – Real Madrid                           £271m – Manchester City

£413.6m – Barcelona                              £260m – Chelsea

£369.6m – Bayern Munich                       £243.6m – Arsenal

£363.2m – Manchester United                  £233.5m – Juventus

£341.8m – Paris Saint-Germain                £225.8m – AC Milan

Now, under FFP, if they surpass losses of 30m Euros (£23.5m) over a three-year period that includes the present campaign, they are prone to sanctions by UEFA (Union of European Football Associations). That figure is a cutback on the £45m over three years that was in operation until last season, and for which Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain were fined £49m for violating last term.

It means that unless clubs take the drastic step of selling many senior players to fund a single purchase, their only other option is to push through the transfer and deal with the fall-out when it happens, a stance Wilson believes could prove to be very expensive. “Chelsea and Manchester City clearly have the financial power but whether they would just do the deal and worry about the consequences afterwards is another matter,” said Wilson. “Most people thought UEFA would take a light touch approach to FFP. In fact they have shown a willingness to apply it pretty rigorously.”

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