A cap on wages could see Lionel Messi leave the club he has turned into a trophy winning force, with Barcelona struggling to balance the books in order to offer their greatest ever player a new contract.
Only 18 months remain in the current deal, which means, theoretically, if no new contract is signed, Messi would be free to talk to other clubs over a free transfer this time next year. The thought of the Argentine moving for free in the summer of 2018 is next to unthinkable – ok, chuck that, it is unthinkable – but doubts have been raised after Barca chief executive Oscar Grau admitted the club will struggle to offer Messi a lucrative new deal owing to the wage cap imposed by the La Liga.
So could Messi really leave Barcelona?
Highly unlikely though it may seem, Grau said "common sense" must prevail when it comes to the new contract – whether that means "of course Messi will stay at Barcelona, no matter what" or "we won't break the bank for Messi," is up to your own interpretation.
"Barcelona have to analyse this situation with a cold head and common sense," Grau was quoted as saying by Reuters. "Barca can't exceed 70 per cent of their budget on wages and therefore we have to make the numbers add up."
One thing that won't need any calculators out, if the numbers don't end up adding up, is the amount of suitors that will line up to try and sign Messi.
Barcelona, though, are unlikely to let that happen:
Increasing their commercial revenue by adding more sponsors and striking more deals – they can take a leaf out of Manchester United's book in that regard – will allow Barcelona, who recently handed Neymar and Luis Suarez rich new deals, to stay within the 70 per cent wage limit while being able to offer Messi the improved contract he, without a shadow of a doubt, deserves.
"One option is to increase our revenues, as our economic strategy forecasts," Grau added. "We want to have the best players around, but perhaps we have to prioritise.
"The club wants the best player in the world to stay at Barca. I would like to ease the concerns of club members and supporters but we have to use common sense."
Common sense would be to keep Messi, no matter what. Even if the great man might turn 30 this year, he remains the best player in the world alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, and Barca will struggle to dominate without the Argentine using that magical left foot of his to devastating effect.