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Why Barcelona's money-men will welcome Chelsea bid for €250M man Lionel Messi

"Sometimes these things go in cycles and at the moment Barcelona are in the middle of a fantastic cycle of having a tremendous squad of players. But that changes over time ... ,"Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager.

When Sir Alex Ferguson declared Barcelona as being in the "middle of a fantastic cycle" after last year's Champions League victory, you doubt even he could've predicted the absolute accuracy of his comments. For after failing to win any of the big trophies last season and with Pep Guardiola's departure, this current Barca team do appear on the decline.

And those fans who rubbished the claims of Guardiola being unsettled and planning to step away from the job barely weeks ago, may have to start preparing themselves for another emotional blow in the coming year as the spotlight sharpens on Lionel Messi's position within the club.

Madrid sources are already talking about a refreshed Guardiola, after a year of the civilian life in New York, taking Messi with him to Chelsea.

Blues owner Roman Abramovich certainly has the spending power to make the deal happen - even if Barca insist he meets Messi's €250 million buyout clause. Since Guardiola and Messi came together four years ago, Barca's revenue rose between 10-15% annually as the trophies, TV money and merchandise sales rolled in - figures which will make financial sense to Abramovich in making the Argentine the world's biggest transfer.

While inroads have been achieved across Asia and Africa, Chelsea have seen Premier League rivals Manchester United and Manchester City make great strides in establishing their profiles in South America over recent years. The signing of Messi would allow Chelsea to piggyback on the Argentine's massive commercial power across the region to claw back some of the ground lost to the Manchester clubs.

And at Barca, while the protests will be made publicly, inside the club the message will be much different.

El Economista alarmed Barca fans earlier this year with a report showing their debt at a staggering €578.1m, with claims they will struggle to pay back loans and service debts. For all the benefits they enjoy from their lending banks and local government, such debts simply cannot continue and the sale of Messi would go some way to balancing the books.

On the pitch, the Argentine may also find himself not enjoying the same support as in the past.

Under Guardiola, everything was built around making Messi Barca's focal point. One of the great bust-ups Guardiola had with president Sandro Rosell and sports director Andoni Zubizarreta was their insistence on a deal for Santos star Neymar.

Guardiola argued both Messi and the Brazilian couldn't be played in a system created to bring out the best in the Argentine. But with Guardiola now gone, Rosell, so proud of his strong ties to Brazilian football thanks to his time with Nike, will seek to bring Neymar to Spain - perhaps as early as this year. Where that leaves Messi is anyone's guess under new coach Tito Vilanova.

But for whatever issues develop on the pitch, the bean counters at the Nou Camp could have the final say. Swapping Messi, even for a still world record €120 million, for Neymar at €40 million makes simple economic sense - especially for a club which will face greater external pressure to get its finances in order as Spain's austerity measures begin to bite.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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