Barcelona want to keep Lionel Messi at the club until he is 36 years old and are relying on his contentment off the field as being just as important a factor in him signing a new contract as his happiness on it.
Barcelona paper Mundo Deportivo have reported that Messi, 31, has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave on a free in 2020 provided he does not go to another big European club.
China, Japan and Qatar will be lining up to take advantage of that get-out. And Barcelona are wary of him following Xavi to Doha to play for Al-Sadd or Andres Iniesta, who moved to Japan last summer to sign for Vissel Kobe in the J1 League.
Lionel Messi remains king of Barcelona, adored by 100,000 fans at the Nou Camp every game and millions more worldwide
But off pitch his life is simple, revolving around his family – wife Antonella, sons Thiago, Mateo and Ciro, and their dog, Hulk
There is also the example of Ezequiel Lavezzi, who is at Hebei China Fortune or Zlatan Ibrahimovic at LA Galaxy. Messi has a theme park due to open in China in 2020 so that might fit with a move there. And the US could be preferable for his young family.
There is certainly no shortage of lucrative offers so what makes Barca believe he will not walk away in two years time? The answers lies in how happy he is living in Catalonia, his home since he was 13.
Messi is no longer the awkward, timid teenager who first showed his face at the club’s La Masia youth academy. Neither is he the 20-something, slightly gullible, butt of dressing-room-prankster Gerard Pique’s jokes. The defender used to replace the battery in Messi’s phone and then watch him wander around the dressing room asking if anyone had a charger because his phone was out of juice despite him charging it that morning.
He is now the boss, the leader. But he remains hugely private and, as Pique once described him, ‘ridiculously normal’. He prefers to spend his time at home with his three sons Thiago, Mateo and Ciro, his wife Antonella and the family super-sized French mastiff dog, Hulk, in the small beach town of Bellamar just down the coast from Barcelona.
It’s there that Messi can live a normal life. He can even stroll to the local school to pick up his sons, often in the company of Luis Suarez, who lives on the same complex and has children of a similar age.
The Bellamar neighbourhood – a beach town south of Barcelona, with four miles of sand and set back in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean – has long been the go-to gated community for top local sportspeople.
Neymar, Javier Mascherano and basketball star Pau Gasol have all had property here. Philippe Coutinho moved in last year when he joined the club from Liverpool. Messi is a good neighbour with ‘great security, which helps us all’, as Suarez joked last year.
In the comfort of his own home he can enjoy a kickabout with his sons on the floodlit miniature football pitch in the back garden, relax by the pool, gaze out across the ocean and even indulge in the occasional barbecue, although not too frequently if he wants to extend his career.
The family pose outside their beautiful home in the luxury gated community at Bellamar, on the coast south of the city
Messi plays with Hulk on the small-sided football pitch within his back garden, which includes goals and dugouts,
The location of Messi’s new home town of Bellamar, which is on the coast just south of the city of Barcelona
Messi’s connection with Argentina will always be there but while brothers Rodrigo and Matias, younger sister Maria-Sol and parents Celia and Jorge spend much time in Rosario – especially his mother and sister – Messi is ever more rooted in his adopted homeland.
There are still annual flights to Buenos Aires followed by the 200-mile drive from the capital to Rosario but family is as likely to come to him now as him to them.
Former Argentina captain Juan Sebastian Veron once said that Messi would stay in his room at the South Africa World Cup in 2010 whenever Argentina’s hotel was full of visiting relatives. Now he is a family man who is more likely to be the centre of the gatherings.
The fact that Messi’s roots in Barcelona go ever deeper as time passes have made clubs more willing to admit that they have, at one time or another, tried and failed to sign him.
Manchester City’s president Khaldoon al Mubarak said as much recently. When asked if there was one player he had tried and failed to sign he said to much applause: ‘Messi’.
And just as moving elsewhere in Europe has never appealed to Messi, so going back to South America seems to be an idea that he has almost completely ruled out for the time being.
When Diego Maradona spoke out against him recently it was an indication of one of the reasons why that is the case. Maradona was reflecting a negative portrayal of Messi that persists in Argentina.
After growing up in Argentina it is no surprise that he is a fan of barbeques, but has had to cut down for health reasons
Antonella shared a picture of Messi enjoying a nap on their enormous sofa, piled high with plush cushions
He sips a cup of mate tea in his back garden, another view of which can be seen in this picture of Thiago and Mateo (right)
Speaking on the television channel Fox, Maradona said: ‘It doesn’t work to make a leader out of someone who goes to the toilet 20 times before a game. We should not make a god of him any more – he is just another player.’
Maradona swings from defending Messi to criticising him. This latest slight reflects an idea widely held by some Argentine football fans that Messi has lacked character when playing for the national team. It’s that lack of universal acclaim in his homeland that would make him not want to return after he finishes playing.
LIONEL MESSI’S LIFE OFF THE PITCH
Born: Rosario, Argentina
Lives: Bellamar, Barcelona, Spain
Married to: Antonella Roccuzzo
Children: Thiago (6), Mateo (3), Ciro (8 months)
Pets: Hulk the dog
Other close family: Jorge (father), Celia (mother), Rodrigo, Matias (brothers), Maria Sol (sister)
It speaks volumes for the way Messi has gone beyond the boundaries of football that Cirque du Soleil are making a show based on his life. They have done the same in the past for other cultural icons such as The Beatles, Elvis and Michael Jackson.
He recently told Tot Costa radio programme in Catalonia that he did not know what he would do when he retires but that ‘when the time comes when I stop playing, I am sure I will know what to fill my time doing.’ It may be that he just chooses to spend more time at his favourite holiday haunt, Ibiza. He can hire an 80 ft cruiser (relatively modest in size – Roman Abramovich’s yacht is 530 ft) and sail to the Balearic Islands in not much longer than seven hours.
He can even share the £6,500 it costs to hire the boat per day with Suarez and Cesc Fabregas who, with his young family, also joins the Messi clan during the summer holidays.
Fabregas has known Messi since they were both kids at La Masia. The Chelsea midfielder has admitted to deliberately bending down to tie his own bootlaces so as not to be paired with Messi in training after being bamboozled by him on a one-against-one dribbling drill the first day they were coached together.
The Messi family count as close friends Cesc Fabregas, a childhood friend at Barcelona, and his wife, Daniella
The Messis are also very close to his current Barcelona team-mate Luis Suarez, and their families often holiday together
Messi with his mother, Celia, and sister, Maria Sol – both are frequent visitors from their home city of Rosario in Argentina
There are still moments when the spotlight and the public attention are unavoidable for Messi, even on those relatively remote summer breaks.
Just last July there were phone videos of Messi being swamped by fans on what he might have thought to be a desolate beach on the small island of Formentera just off the coast of Ibiza. He had to paddle out back to his boat as they snapped him from the shoreline.
But he still feels more at home close to Barcelona and the club will be counting on that sentiment being the overriding one for him when they sit him down in talks planned for next year to discuss that final contract, the one that will make him a Barcelona player until he is 36 years old, and a 23-year one-club man. – Daily News