Messi appears happy for now

Jan 8, 2021 8:00 PM

NBCSN advanced last week’s unveiling of the exclusive one-on-one interview, “Lionel Messi Sin Filtro,” with a provocative tease.

It showed interviewer Jordi Évole asking the FC Barcelona superstar if he had discussed a reunion with pal Pep Guardiola in his regular chats with the Manchester City boss, followed by what it billed as Messi’s response.

The Argentine striker pauses, sighs, exhales … fade out, voice-over imploring this is can’t-miss drama. Saw the bit several times. Nabbed Cheetos Puffs and cherry Pepsi for the big show.

Must see, my Arsenal. Didn’t happen that way, not in real time, not in reality. In fact, the 33-year-old Messi did not pause after that inquiry. During the actual 90-minute interview, he matter-of-factly said, “No. Honestly, no.”

Not a hint that he’s definitely Manchester-bound, though that’s where smart money has landed.

Via sister property Telemundo Deportes, NBCSN obtained the show, with English subtitles, that had originally aired on Spanish TV channel La Sexta. Its fluff factor was high.

Messi’s three kids like watching “Peppa Pig,” “Dragon Ball Z” and other cartoons. He and wife Antonella enjoy certain restaurants in their suburban Barcelona neighborhood of Castelldefels (I rate La Toja’s paella very high).

However, the start was downright embarrassing to any media figure who aims to be taken seriously. Évole asks for, and receives, Messi’s autograph on a jersey, for his kid. Unprofessionalism defined.

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The global hysteria, ignited by the player’s ignorance of his own contract, mushroomed in late August. Messi’s arrival at City is imminent, screamed one tabloid. He’s pairing with Cristiano at Juventus, bellowed another. They paraded in Rosario, Argentina, welcoming the savior’s return to boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys.

All fiction. An $800 million buyout was fact. The contract extension Messi inked in 2017, which pays him about $80 million this season, included a free transfer, with a deadline of June 10, 2020.

Typically, a campaign is over by then. But obviously, 2020 was quite atypical. After a three-month pandemic delay, La Liga re-started, as did the Champions League.

It ended in August. On the 14th, Bayern Munich slammed Barça out of the Champions League, 8-2. Eleven days later, Messi submitted his transfer request, believing it was “after the season.”

But he had missed that June 10 deadline. Nobody, though, would pay such an exorbitant fee— salary-swamped Barcelona needs every euro it can unearth — knowing he’d be available, gratis, this summer.

Father-agent Jorge and brother Rodrigo, in whom Lionel has long trusted for counsel, missed the legal fine print, too. In FourFourTwo magazine, Andy Mitten posed the rhetorical, “Has he always had the smartest people in his corner?”

Messi told Évole he would have triumphed in court, but that’s dubious. June 10 and the bungling relatives would have been front-page fodder.

Jimmy Burns, author of the definitive “Barça: A People’s Passion,” says an out-of-court settlement would have been most beneficial. He told FourFourTwo, “… it wasn’t great spectacle at a time when people couldn’t go to the stadium. The whole thing was a dog’s dinner.”

To his credit, Messi has performed well. This might be his first season since 2007-08 without producing 20 goals, but his 112 shot-creating actions top Europe. The Flea’s low center-of-gravity dribbles are still magnificent to behold.

Look for him to reunite with buddies Guardiola and Argentine attacker Sergio Agüero this summer in Manchester. Xavi, another pal, is favored to win the Barça presidency, but Messi seems eager to leave.

In 2022 or ’23, watch him transfer to City sister club New York City FC, where he’ll realize a dream to live in the States. He hopes to return to Barça in a high-profile, non-coaching role, maybe one in which he calls the shots.

By then, he’d best have mastered contract details.

Saturday

Hoffenheim -114 at Schalke 04: Bundesliga bottom-feeder Schalke is spiraling, having scored only three times in its past seven league matches. Its three ‘keepers have been peppered by 92 shots on target, most in Germany. HOFFENHEIM

Real Madrid -1 -128 at Osasuna, Total 2.5 Ov -147: Madrid’s Belgian ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois has allowed only three goals in his past eight games, a 7-0-1 personal run. Real has won the previous six meetings, with a 20-4 goals advantage. REAL MADRID and OVER

Sunday

Sassuolo at Juventus, Total 3 Ov -115: In their previous six meetings, 27 goals have been recorded. The past three games for both this season featured 26 combined goals. Allianz Stadium nets will be scorched. OVER

Last week: 4-0

Season: 29-30-3