Lionel Messi is the backbone of FC Barcelona. A one-club man, the Argentine has devoted his entire professional club career playing for the Blaugrana. However, there have been instances during his near two-decade stint at the Catalan club that Messi thought of leaving Camp Nou.
The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has always iterated that he would not end his career in Spain as he intends to play for his boyhood club Newell's Old Boys before he hangs his boots.
But every transfer window, rumours swirl up linking the 32-year-old to some of the biggest clubs outside Spain. Over the years there have been several occasions when the loyalist considered leaving Barcelona. The question of when he will do so is something only time can answer.
On that note, we take a look at the five occasions, Lionel Messi, leaving Barcelona was a real possibility:
1. Lionel Messi has admitted he was close to leaving Spain in 2017
Lionel Messi admitted last year that he was close to leaving Spain in 2017. The 32-year-old confessed that he felt mistreated in Spain after being handed a 21-month prison sentence for a tax fraud scandal.
Messi and his father, Jorge, were found guilty of evading taxes worth €4.1 million between 2007 and 2009. The courts slapped a suspended 21-month prison sentence on the father-son duo that was later reduced to a fine.
Talking about his desire to leave back in 2017, Lionel Messi said:
"At that time, with the mess of the treasury, I wanted to leave, not for wanting to leave Barca but wanting to leave Spain."
"I felt that I was being very mistreated and I didn't want to stay here. I never had an official offer because everyone knew my idea was to stay here."
"It was very difficult for me and my family because people don't know much about what's going on."
The Argentine felt the Spanish government and the media harassed him. He also felt that his family became distraught and therefore was looking for a move away from Spain.
Lionel Messi's representatives even met officials from other clubs. Still, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner eventually ended up staying at Camp Nou as there was no concrete offer from any club.
2. Lionel Messi considered Manchester City's offer in 2016
Despite possessing an excellent squad, Manchester City have not been able to prove their mettle in the Champions League. The Cityzens have always been firm admirers of Lionel Messi and have made numerous attempts to lure the Argentine to England.
But in 2016 when Pep Guardiola joined Manchester City, Lionel Messi's exit from Barcelona started looking like a real possibility. City's entourage started talking to Messi's representatives.
It was believed that the 32-year-old was excited to play for Guardiola once again and even informed Barca officials of the same. He was even looking forward to playing alongside his beloved friend Sergio Aguero.
It was in the same year that Messi quit international football following Argentina's second Copa America final defeat in a row in June 2016. Moreover, he was also troubled by the ongoing tax evasion investigation in Spain. Manchester City was monitoring the situation closely and were even ready to shell out €150 million for the Argentine.
Despite being so close to an exit, the deal fell apart as Luis Suarez, Josep Maria Bartomeu and Jordi Mestre were successful in talking Messi out of the move.
3. Messi sparked Chelsea rumours following suspicious activity on Instagram
Lionel Messi sparked rumours of a move away from Barcelona when he started following the official handle of Chelsea Football Club on Instagram.
Not only did he follow the London based club, but he also started following their senior players that included the likes of Thibaut Courtois and Felipe Luis. Meanwhile, his close relationship with Cesc Fabregas also pointed towards Messi's probable move to Stamford Bridge.
It was reported that Messi was angered by Barca's decision to terminate the contract of the Director of Football, Andoni Zubizarreta. Carles Puyol, who was the Assistant Director of Football at Camp Nou at the time, resigned in protest.
The rumours of Lionel Messi's exit from Camp Nou were fuelled by reports of a feud between the Argentine international and manager Luis Enrique.
Roman Abramovich was readying a £200 million bid for the Argentine. With Adidas also pushing for Lionel Messi's move to Chelsea, the gargantuan transfer fee did not bother the Blues. But despite all the drama that unfolded, Lionel Messi eventually stayed put at Barcelona.
4. Lionel Messi nearly joined Inter Milan in 2006
Inter Milan were close to signing Lionel Messi in 2006.
The Italian giants eyed Messi as the next big thing and were ready to trigger his €150 million release clause. Inter came in with a lucrative offer to sign Messi, but Joan Laporta's persistence kept the Argentine at bay.
Laporta convinced Lionel Messi's father by assuring him that Messi may earn better wages at Inter but will become a great at Camp Nou if he stays. Recalling the incident, Laporta revealed:
“It was 2006 when Inter made an offer.”.
“They were prepared to pay the €150m buy-out clause, which is why we [later] raised it to €250m, but I always felt reassured by my relationship with his dad, Jorge.
“I told him: ‘They’ll have to pay the clause because I won’t sell. He’ll be happy here, he’ll get glory. There, he’ll only win financially. Your son’s destined to be the greatest in history and here he’ll have a team to help get there. He’ll enjoy it’.”
5. Messi's current situation at Barcelona is unsettling
Lionel Messi is currently unsettled at Barcelona. Following his fall out with his former team-mate and club's sporting director Eric Abidal over the sacking of Ernesto Valverde, the rumours of Messi's exit from Camp Nou are on a steep rise.
Other factors that have come into play is that Messi is currently unhappy with the Barcelona management. The Argentine, along with many of the team members, are not entirely happy with the club management's decision to cut 70% per cent of the player wages.
There is a feeling within the dressing room that if the club were run much more efficiently, the pay cut would not have been this massive.
Moreover, the Lionel Messi is not thrilled with how the Catalan club handled Philippe Coutinho's situation. The Argentine believes that Coutinho deserves another chance which the club is unwilling to provide.
Clubs across Europe are closely monitoring Lionel Messi's situation at Barcelona. With a particular clause in Messi's contract that allows him to leave Camp Nou for nothing this summer, the Argentine's stint at Camp Nou could finally get over.