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Messi may become most expensive player

Some 254 million euros, close to $330 million: that is what it would cost to get the talented football forward Lionel Messi away from Barcelona in accordance with Spanish law.

sports Updated: Jan 28, 2009 02:36 IST

Some 254 million euros, close to $330 million: that is what it would cost to get the talented football forward Lionel Messi away from Barcelona in accordance with Spanish law.

Barcelona has set 150 million euros ($195 million) as the fee - required by Spanish legislation - for the young Argentine to unilaterally break his contract with his current employer.

The figure is high enough to deter most of those who might consider signing him. But, based on rumours of possible buyers in Madrid, there are some out there eying both the 330-million-dollar figure and their own bottom line.

However, other concepts should be added to that amount. VAT would be required, as well as an income tax of 46 percent, the Barcelona sports daily Mundo Deportivo noted Monday.

Given these figures, Messi is worth almost the equivalent of Barcelona's whole annual team budget, worth some $390 million.

Should any club try to tempt Messi without coming to an agreement with Barcelona, the player - "not the club" - would have to pay the required money, so he should first get it from his potential new employer. Once he gets those funds, however, Spanish tax authorities would demand that the striker pay income tax on them.

Messi could only avoid that payment "if both clubs came to an agreement to issue a bill for the amount of the contract-cancellation fee," which Real Madrid and Barcelona did in the past when Luis Figo moved to the Spanish capital, for example.

Technically, this would make the move a direct sale between clubs, for the same amount set as a penalty fee for the player.

Beyond tax issues, Messi's play, goals and general statistics bring up comparisons with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, of Manchester United, the recent winner of the Ballon d'Or that distinguishes the best player in the world.

There are reports of an alleged deal with Real Madrid that would take Ronaldo to Spain next season for just over 120 million euros ($155.6 million). The amount is considerably lower than the fee required to get Messi.

The young Argentine shone again Saturday. When he scored in Barcelona's 4-1 win over Numancia, Messi kissed the club badge on his shirt, in a gesture that seemed highly symbolic following days of intense rumours.

Barcelona-based media were shocked by the chance that former Real Madrid coach Florentino Perez - a candidate to return to the club leadership in the coming months - might want to turn Messi into his greatest electoral asset. And the snowball started to roll.

Barcelona fans do not forget the way Figo signed for Real Madrid in 2000, lifting Perez to the presidency. They also recall how their club has traditionally devoured superstars: one by one, talented players like Diego Armando Maradona, Bernd Schuster, Ronaldo, Figo or, most recently, Ronaldinho have left Barcelona through the back door.

Messi was quick to calm down fears. First, he kissed the club badge, and then he made it clear that he was very satisfied.

"I am missing nothing here, I have everything. Like the love of the fans, which is the most important thing, that which impresses me the most. I do not need to change teams," he said.

And yet, late Sunday he made it clear that things may yet change. Could he leave?

"Nothing is impossible, because after everything that Ronaldinho gave Barcelona, he ended up being badly treated and he wound up leaving," the Argentine noted.

In the meantime, Messi's price continues to rise, and Barcelona is looking into ways to keep its superstar happy. However, given his market price, it is easy to predict that he will remain at his current club for as long as he wants to.