Manchester City have launched Operation Lionel Messi.
Blues chiefs believe the Argentine star is deadly serious about his threat to quit Barcelona next year and are putting together a stunning financial package to try to land Pep Guardiola’s dream signing.
They are prepared to shatter the world-transfer fee of £89million paid by Manchester United for Paul Pogba in the summer.
Messi will have only a year left on his Barca contract at the end of the season, and the Blues’ Abu Dhabi-based owners are prepared to smash through the £100m barrier to sign the best player in the world.
A £500,000-a-week basic salary and an extensive package of bonuses would also put Messi in a league of his own in England when it comes to wages.
Senior sources at the Etihad confirmed in the summer that the arrival of new boss Guardiola would give them a decisive edge if the forward decided to bring an end to his Barca reign.
Sunday Mirror Sport understands that confidence is much greater now.
Guardiola’s very public plea for the 29-year-old to join him in Manchester before a Messi hat-trick sentenced City to a 4-0 Champions League defeat in the Nou Camp last month was the first shot across Barca’s bows.
And the news that Messi is now considering his future, following a contract wrangle with the Catalan club, has prompted the Blues to begin drawing up a financial plan on the most efficient way to seal the deal.
Their hope has now been replaced by belief – and there are fears in Barcelona that the bid to try to convince their star striker to commit himself to a contract that will keep him at the club for the rest of his career may have materialised too late.
Messi has just 18 months on his current deal and his buy-out clause is set at a massive £215m. But Barca know that figure is now unrealistic given that they could lose their star player on a free transfer in 2018.
Boss Luis Enrique joined club president Josep Maria Bartomeu this week in insisting that Messi will spend the rest of his career at the Nou Camp.
He joined Barcelona at the age of 13 and has won eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues.