While many assumed that the page had been turned on the potential Lionel Messi mega-deal rumored to be happening between Chelsea and Barcelona when Jose Mourinho came out in an interview flatly denying that a deal was even possible in light of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, the media seem determined to be manipulated into continuing to report on the entire mess. Believing that the fact that Messi has now followed both Chelsea and Manchester City on Instagram to be a sign of his discontent with Barcelona and manager Luis Enrique, the net is now once again swimming with speculation that a deal may be imminent. By making this social media move, Messi has sent fans of both clubs from despondency to desperation while not making any actual statements or giving any official indication of anything. Financial realities aside, supporters of both clubs are now stuck on the impossible speculation.
The recent shake-ups at Barcelona, including the sacking of football director Andoni Zubizaretta and quitting of Charles Puyol, have left the scent of blood in the water, and the sharks are circling. Every interaction between Messi and Enrique, as well as any other management moves, have been under close scrutiny as those who want to perpetuate the story look for any reasonable explanation for the Barca star to want to leave. An incident on the training field, where Enrique was acting as referee for five-a-side matches, has been suggested as one possibility for an ignition point. Supposedly, Messi had an unresolved argument over a call Enrique made which left them both upset. When Messi was left out of the starting IX for the next match against Real Sociedad, some thought that the unlikely training row was the reason, even though Messi had just come back from an extended holiday. Messi claiming gastroenteritis the next day and missing training just about sealed the deal for those wanting to connect the dots. Once the management shake-ups began to take place, the ground became fertile for over-active imaginations. Messi just planted what people were looking for and let them manipulate the facts to take the story where they wanted it to go.
Whether intentionally sending a message to management or simply having fun with the January craziness, Messi has put himself at the center of the transfer window news cycle. Media attention to the events at Barca now will inevitably raise the questions of his potential departure. Speculation about management changes will now include questions of whether Enrique can keep his more volatile superstars happy and in line. Where there was virtually no story to be had, he now is the primary one.
It does not matter if he is wanting out of Spain or not, a deal with Chelsea or City will almost certainly not be happening in January. As Mourinho said in his comments, FFP makes chasing a £205 million deal an impossibility at the moment. Manipulating everyone into talking about such a remote possibility, while he is innocent of anything more than social media activity, is a smart move for Messi. From a public relations standpoint, it is a master stroke.
It may be that he is poking at his manager. It might be that he is upset at being hounded by tax authorities in Spain every couple of years and is actually considering an exit. It could be that he is making a statement about the nature of the transfer season and the media foolishness that always comes of it. He might even just be interested in following an old teammate who now plays for Chelsea and be taking the opportunity to make a little joke. Threatening or teasing, Messi is not oblivious enough for his manipulations to be completely unintentional. Though it is inconceivable