Lionel Messi must be the Michael Jordan of Barcelona, according to presidential candidate Jordi Farre.

Barcelona have been without an official president since Josep Maria Bartomeu resigned at the end of October ahead of an expected vote of no confidence.

The presidential election is scheduled to take place on January 24, and Farre is among the candidates, though Victor Font is the heavy favourite to win.

After Messi handed in a transfer request at the start of the season before opting to stay at Camp Nou, Farre outlined his long-term plans for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, highlighting NBA Hall of Famer and Chicago Bulls great Jordan.

"Doubting what Messi has given us is even in bad taste," Farre told Esport3.

"Messi has to be offered a life project. We have to turn Messi into Barca's Jordan.

"We are working to offer Messi a project in the institutional life of the club."

Messi – out of contract at season's end – continues to be linked with Premier League giants Manchester City.

"We have already spoken with Messi's environment," Farre said. "We have a proposal. The offer is not economic.

"Leo has already made a lot of money. It is a love story. I am sure I have a project that will convince Messi."

Messi returned to Barca to work under new head coach Ronald Koeman after failing to engineer a move away, but 2020-21 has been far from a vintage season for the superstar captain.

The 33-year-old has scored three goals in seven LaLiga games this term, while he has six across all competitions.

Messi's minutes per-goal-rate of 195 is only good enough for 28th among players to have featured in at least five LaLiga games this season.

Barca – eighth in LaLiga and nine points off the pace – travel to Atletico Madrid on Saturday following the international break.

Messi has scored 12 goals in 17 LaLiga appearances against Atletico under Diego Simeone, more than any other player, whilst he is also the player to have scored the most LaLiga goals against goalkeeper Jan Oblak (eight goals in 11 games).

Lionel Messi is the only number one in football as former Barcelona star Ivan Rakitic hailed the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Rakitic won 13 trophies, including four LaLiga titles and the Champions League, alongside superstar captain Messi at Barca before returning to Spanish rivals Sevilla at the start of the season.

Messi – Barca's all-time leading scorer – is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport and Rakitic lauded the 33-year-old attacker, who has been linked with a move away from Camp Nou.

"One hundred per cent football. It doesn't matter who you are, you just have to watch and enjoy this guy. He's on another level," Rakitic told FIFA.com.

"With all respect to the other greats, there's only one number one – it's Leo. To play 311 games next to him, it was a dream.

"I enjoyed it so, so much. I just want to say this: 'Thank you for everything, Leo, because you'll never know how much it meant to me to play next to you'."

Messi's future remains an important topic at Barca after he handed in a transfer request following a tumultuous 2019-20 season.

Argentina's all-time leading scorer and captain was tipped to join Premier League powerhouse Manchester City before opting to remain in Spain, though he has since been linked to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

Messi returned to Barca to work under new head coach Ronald Koeman after failing to engineer a move away, but 2020-21 has been far from a vintage season for him.

He has scored three goals in seven LaLiga games this term, while he has six across all competitions.

Messi's minutes per-goal-rate of 195 is only good enough for 28th among players to have featured in at least five LaLiga games this season.

Barca – eighth in LaLiga and nine points off the pace – travel to Atletico Madrid on Saturday following the international break.

Messi has scored 12 goals in 17 LaLiga appearances against Atletico under Diego Simeone, more than any other player, whilst he is also the player to have scored the most LaLiga goals against goalkeeper Jan Oblak (eight goals in 11 games).

Rivaldo believes this season will be Lionel Messi's last with Barcelona amid ongoing links to Manchester City.

Messi's future remains an important topic at Barca after he handed in a transfer request following a tumultuous 2019-20 season.

The superstar Barca captain was tipped to join Premier League powerhouse City before opting to remain in Spain, though he has since been linked to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

Former Barca star Rivaldo feels the club's new board will be unable to convince six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi to stay beyond 2020-21.

"Barcelona had already negotiated some salary cuts [amid the coronavirus pandemic] with players and also tried to make a general cut that was declined by the squad, so, this is not new for the players," Rivaldo, who won two LaLiga titles, the Copa del Rey and UEFA Super Cup during his time at Camp Nou, wrote in his column for Betfair.

"But it does reinforce the idea that reaching an agreement to renew Messi's contract is going to be tough with a reduced margin to increase his salary.

"Of course, Messi will have better offers from other clubs, and was already trying to leave the club by the end of last season. I can't see how our board will convince him to take a step back on that decision.

"In my opinion, only winning a Champions League or La Liga title this season, or watching Koeman getting the team playing beautiful football can convince Messi to reconsider his options. Unfortunately I'm afraid this will be his last season with the club."

Messi returned to Barca to work under new head coach Ronald Koeman after failing to engineer a move away, but 2020-21 has been far from a vintage season for him.

The 33-year-old has scored three goals in seven LaLiga games this term, while he has six across all competitions.

Messi's minutes per-goal-rate of 195 is only good enough for 28th among players to have featured in at least five LaLiga games this season.

Barca – eighth in LaLiga and nine points off the pace – travel to Atletico Madrid on Saturday following the international break.

Messi has scored 12 goals in 17 LaLiga appearances against Atletico under Diego Simeone, more than any other player, whilst he is also the player to have scored the most LaLiga goals against goalkeeper Jan Oblak (eight goals in 11 games).

Manchester City have tied Pep Guardiola down to a new two-year contract. Could Lionel Messi be next?

Messi has long been linked with a reunion with Guardiola, with whom he won 14 of his 34 trophies at Barcelona during a four-year spell that saw the Argentinian ascend to a level that established him among the greatest players of all time.

Reports of a potential move to City intensified in August after the six-time Ballon d'Or winner informed Barca of his desire to leave the club.

Messi had been banking on being allowed to depart on a free transfer as previously promised by then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who subsequently informed him he would not be allowed out of the final year of his contract unless a fee was negotiated.

Guardiola reportedly met with Messi in Barcelona and told him City would be unable to enter such negotiations and advised him to see out his deal at Camp Nou.

With the Catalan's presence at the Etihad Stadium locked in until 2023, it could be argued that the groundwork is in place to pull off one of the biggest signings in history.

 

A marriage made in Barcelona

Under Guardiola, Messi played more games (219), scored more goals (211) and supplied more assists (79) in all competitions than he has for any other coach.

The Argentina star enjoyed his most prolific campaign in 2011-12 – Guardiola's last before leaving to take a sabbatical.

In just 60 appearances in all competitions he accumulated an incredible 73 goals and 29 assists, both of which remain personal bests for a single season. He scored 50 times in LaLiga, the best all-time mark and one that is unlikely to be surpassed any time soon.

Across the entirety of 2012, he set a world record by scoring 91 goals – 79 for Barcelona and 12 for Argentina. His performances saw him become the first player to win the Ballon d'Or four times, and they came in successive years.

A disappointing start

Messi returned to Barca to work under Ronald Koeman after failing to engineer a move away, but 2020-21 has been far from a vintage season for him.

In his first nine games of the campaign he scored four goals, although every one of them came from the penalty spot.

He started on the bench for the visit of Real Betis prior to the international break due to concerns over his "freshness", but he came on for the second half and registered a double – ending his wait for a goal from open play with his second.

His minutes per-goal-rate of 195 is only good enough for 28th among players to have featured in at least five LaLiga games this season.

 

Could it actually happen?

Messi evidently remains unsettled at Camp Nou. Upon returning from international duty on Wednesday, he was asked for his thoughts on comments made by Antoine Griezmann's former representative Eric Olhats.

Olhats accused the club captain of overseeing a "reign of terror" at Barca and making Griezmann feel unwelcome following his arrival from Atletico Madrid for a fee of €120million in July 2019.

Messi responded: "I'm tired of being blamed for everything that's wrong at the club."

Guardiola has previously urged Messi to retire at Barca, but his change in circumstances at City may well alter his position on the issue.

Lionel Messi hit back after Antoine Griezmann's former representative suggested the Barcelona captain has played a significant role in the France star's struggles at Camp Nou.

Griezmann's ex-adviser Eric Olhats last week alleged to France Football that Messi – whom he claimed "has power over everything" at Barca – objected to the signing of Griezmann and "made him feel unwelcome".

Messi returned to Barcelona on Wednesday having represented Argentina in a pair of World Cup qualifiers and was asked about the comments as he left El Prat Airport.

He said: "I'm a little tired of always being the problem for everything at the club."

Barca signed Griezmann from Atletico Madrid for €120million in July 2019 but he has failed to live up to expectations.

He has scored 11 goals and supplied five assists in 42 LaLiga appearances for the Blaugrana, averaging a goal every 273 minutes – the 36th best in the division among players to have appeared at least 20 times.

In his five seasons at Atletico, Griezmann scored a goal every 152 minutes – the eighth best in the league for those to have featured over 100 times.

Since Griezmann joined him at Barca, Messi has scored 28 goals and supplied 21 assists in LaLiga. Only Luis Suarez can better Messi's average of a goal every 124 minutes in that time.

The Argentina superstar has been under intense scrutiny this season after failing to force through a move away from Barca, where his contract is set to expire at the end of the season, and appears unwilling to suffer any criticism he deems undue.

During his interview, Olhats added: "[Messi] is as much an emperor as a monarch and he didn't take kindly to the signing of Antoine.

"His attitude has been deplorable ... I've always disliked hearing Griezmann say that there are no issues with Messi but never the other way around. It's a reign of terror. You're either with him or against him.

"Last season, when Griezmann arrived, Messi didn't speak to him and didn't pass him the ball. I think he suffered because of a negative adaptation."

Lionel Messi continues to dominate headlines.

While Messi decided to stay at Camp Nou, Manchester City are reportedly still trying to prise the superstar from Barcelona.

Could he be set for a mid-season switch?

 

TOP STORY – MESSI TARGETED BY CITY

Manchester City are expected to make a bid to sign Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi in January, according to The Sun.

Messi was tipped to join Pep Guardiola's City after handing in a transfer request at the start of the season, however, he opted to stay at Camp Nou.

City, though, have not given up on signing the six-time Ballon d'Or winner – who has also been linked to Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

ROUND-UP

- What does the future hold for Sergio Ramos? The Real Madrid captain is out of contract at season's end, and the likes of Juventus, PSG and Manchester United have emerged as possible destinations. Should Ramos leave the Santiago Bernabeu, Diario AS claims Bayern Munich star David Alaba could arrive as a replacement at Madrid. Alaba is also wanted by Juve, Barcelona and City.

- Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is desperate for a loan move and is willing to take a pay cut to secure a short-term exit, reports The Sun.

- Eurosport says Chelsea are eyeing a future move for Borussia Dortmund sensation Jude Bellingham, who only swapped England for Germany at the start of the season. Bellingham is seen as an alternative to West Ham midfielder Declan Rice.

Inter are keen to make head coach Antonio Conte happy by exchanging Christian Eriksen for PSG midfielder Leandro Paredes and swapping Matias Vecino for Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik in the New Year, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Lionel Messi praised Argentina's performance against Peru and believes they are only getting stronger.

Nicolas Gonzalez and Lautaro Martinez scored first-half goals in Lima on Tuesday, lifting Lionel Scaloni's men to a third win in four World Cup 2022 qualifiers.

Argentina extended their unbeaten run to 11 games, while they have won their past three away qualifiers – something they had not achieved since 2000.

Messi was pleased with Argentina's display, which came five days after their draw at home to Paraguay.

"Happy with the victory, we needed it after the game we played the other day," the star said, via Argentina's Twitter account.

"From the beginning we had a great match, the goals came and we created many, many chances."

Messi added: "The second half the other day was already very good and I think we continued on the same line, even raising the level a bit.

"I think this is the way we have to follow. Little by little we are becoming stronger as a group."

Messi made his 142nd Argentina appearance against Peru, joining Brazil great Cafu for the equal fifth most by a South American man.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner wants to continue contributing for Argentina, who won in Peru for the first time since 2004.

"Whenever I come here I try to do my best and I feel qualified to fight for this shirt," Messi said.

"I feel good to continue working and adding games."

Nicolas Gonzalez continued his rapid rise and Lautaro Martinez was on target as Argentina maintained their unbeaten start to CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying with a 2-0 win over Peru.

Argentina's perfect record was ended in a draw against Paraguay last time out, however the Albiceleste stayed undefeated on the road to Qatar 2022 thanks to Gonzalez and Martinez in Lima on Tuesday.

Gonzalez, who scored in the Paraguay stalemate, opened the scoring with his second international goal in five appearances in the 17th minute before Martinez doubled Argentina's lead 11 minutes later.

With the result, Argentina remain second and two points behind CONMEBOL leaders Brazil through four matchdays.

Peru started on the front foot at the Estadio Nacional, where Christian Cueva appealed for a penalty inside the ninth minute but it was waived away by the referee, despite a pitch-side review – Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani was adjudged not to have made contact.

Pedro Gallese did not have much to do, but he was forced to collect the ball from his net after Gonzalez capped a fine team goal – Giovani Lo Celso creating space in a sublime movement before laying off a pass with the outside of his boot as the former finished powerfully across the Peru goalkeeper.

Lionel Messi almost helped double Argentina's lead when he played a throughball for Nicolas Tagliafico, who was denied by a last-ditch block in the 24th minute.

Argentina, though, did get their second goal four minutes later after Martinez broke the offside trap, running onto Leandro Paredes' pass down the middle and rounding Gallese in a swift attacking move.

While Peru ended the half strongly, they had nothing to show for it, though they continued to build some momentum in the second half.

Lucas Ocampos almost scored a goal with his first touch, but Gallese made a fine save approaching the hour-mark, after Messi's exquisite pass almost released Martinez.

Messi tried desperately to get on the scoresheet, but he had his penalty appeals waived away and his goal-bound effort was deflected for a corner, while substitute Angel Di Maria was thwarted by Gallese.

 

What does it mean? Argentina roll on

Argentina are yet to taste defeat in four World Cup 2022 qualifiers. Not since last year's Copa America in July have Lionel Scaloni's side lost – a run of 11 international fixtures. It was also Argentina's first victory away to Peru since September 2004, having drawn three times previously.

Lo Celso shines in Lima

After impressing off the bench against Paraguay, Lo Celso was at it again from the outset on Tuesday. He helped set the tone with a wonderful assist – his quick feet, vision, composure and passing on display.

Subdued Messi wasteful

Messi was far from his best against Peru, but it did not matter as the likes of Lo Celso and Paredes stepped up. The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was not without his chances, though Argentina's all-time leading goalscorer uncharacteristically saw two golden opportunities go begging in the second half. Messi has now gone three international matches without scoring.

What's next?

Argentina will be back in action in March next year, the South American powerhouse facing rivals Uruguay and Brazil, while Peru will take on Bolivia and Venezuela.

Javier Tebas has outlined his desire to keep Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos in Spain as LaLiga's president once again aimed a swipe at Manchester City. 

Messi pushed to leave Barcelona during the previous transfer window, with the 33-year-old citing frustrations with the board as he made clear his desire to move on. 

Pep Guardiola's City were heavily linked with the Argentina international, but Messi eventually elected to see out the remainder of his contract at Camp Nou, staying until at least the end of the 2020-21 season. 

Tebas once more reiterated his wish to see Messi remain in LaLiga, though he does not believe the competition will be significantly worse off should the Barca forward move on. 

"We would prefer Messi to stay in La Liga but Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar left and we haven't noticed any difference," said Tebas, who went on to criticise City over how they go about their business. 

"It seems the only club in Premier League that talks about registering Messi is Manchester City, who compete outside the rules. I am not the only one saying this. 

"I am not too worried about them. I have criticised what they do so many times. Doing it one more time makes no difference. 

"City is neither affected by COVID or pandemics or anything because they are financed differently and it is impossible to fight against that."

Also out of contract at the end of the campaign is Real Madrid captain Ramos, who overtook Gianluigi Buffon to become the most capped European footballer when he played for the 177th time for Spain in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Switzerland, during which the defender missed two penalties. 

Ramos cancelled a planned appearance at the national team's media conference on Monday ahead of facing Germany amid reports contract negotiations with Madrid had stalled. 

Tebas, however, expects the centre-back to remain in the Spanish capital. 

"I prefer Messi in the league, Sergio Ramos in the league," he said. "We have had important outings. But we are prepared to have the least possible impact.

"I think Ramos will continue at Real Madrid."

Lionel Scaloni was happy with what he saw from Lionel Messi as Argentina prepare to face Peru in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Amid concerns over an ankle injury, Messi played in Argentina's 1-1 draw with Paraguay on Thursday, having a goal ruled out in the second half.

Argentina coach Scaloni said he was pleased with Messi, who is set to make his 142nd international appearance – to go equal with Brazil great Cafu for the fifth most by a South American.

"On a performance level, Leo played a good game," he told a news conference.

"We were unlucky that they didn't validate the goal because it had been a great play."

Scaloni added: "I saw him well and he has no problem, that's the important thing."

Argentina will seek to extend their unbeaten run in qualifiers against Peru to 16 matches, but Scaloni also wanted to send his well wishes to Javier Mascherano.

Mascherano, the former Barcelona and Liverpool star who has the most caps in Argentina's history, announced his retirement on Sunday.

"I want to emphasise the retirement of Javier Mascherano and his new life that begins from now on. I send him a big hug," Scaloni said.

"He was an emblem of Argentine football and I wish him to do his best and that whatever he decides to do now, he does it with the same passion with which he used to play."

Meanwhile, Peru coach Ricardo Gareca – whose side have collected just one point from their opening three qualifiers – acknowledged the challenge awaiting his team.

"We pay attention to the strength of the rivals and logically it is a challenge to try to counteract the strengths of the teams that we face," he said.

"Argentina not only has Messi, but they have many good players in all their lines and we will have to play a great game to neutralise them."

Pedri thanked Real Madrid for not signing him, saying he was where he wanted to be at Barcelona.

The 17-year-old joined the LaLiga giants from Las Palmas in July, and has scored twice in 10 appearances for Barca this season.

But it could have been different for the teenager, who was turned down by Madrid after a trial.

Pedri, a Spain youth international, said he was glad to be rejected by Barca's rivals.

"I went to test with Real Madrid but they told me I didn't have the level," he told Cadena SER on Monday.

"I thank the one who told me I was not worth it, now I am in the team that I have always loved."

Barcelona sit eighth in the LaLiga table, nine points behind leaders Real Sociedad, although they have played two fewer games.

Pedri, who has made three league starts this season, is enjoying the opportunity of playing with six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi.

"Of course I dreamed of playing with Messi, like many children," he said.

Barcelona are next in action with a trip to Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Lionel Messi first represented Barcelona's senior side 17 years ago, on November 16, 2003. It's difficult to adequately describe the impact and influence he's since gone on to have on one of the world's most illustrious clubs.

A six-time Ballon d'Or winner and long-established as Barca's all-time leading scorer, virtually every major decision that is made at the club ultimately appears to be taken with Messi in mind.

Perhaps the reality is different, but the way the Barca soap opera is played out in Spanish and Catalan media, one comes to assume it isn't just on the pitch that Messi pulls the strings.

It was this situation that made the pre-season tug of war between Messi and the club all the more damaging – while the player was adamant he could leave for free, then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu seemingly reneged on a previous agreement and stood firm.

Seventeen years on from his first appearance in the Barca team, during a friendly with Porto, it seems an opportune time to consider where Messi might go next if he allows his contract to expire next year.

So, just for a minute, let's imagine money is no object and Messi could play for anyone he chooses. What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?

We've imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we'd love to see him play for...

AJAX

The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it's a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.

Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side - who are beautiful to watch as it is - is a wonderful idea, and there is even the faint prospect of Luis Suarez going back to his old club to join him one day.

Plus, given the players they have signed from Ajax in the past - Frenkie de Jong and Sergino Dest the latest - Barca probably owe the Eredivisie club a transfer favour in return.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini's side captured the hearts of the football world in 2019-20, threatening a title challenge in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

They did all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region harder than almost anywhere else in Europe.

The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulls the strings for Atalanta is a joy to watch, but imagine if Messi were doing it alongside him. Imagine them facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon's Twitter feed.

Glorious, isn't it?

COLOGNE

The GOAT and the Billy Goats - what could be better?

Cologne are going through some tricky times. Markus Gisdol did a brilliant job in steadying the ship in the Bundesliga last season and was rewarded with a new contract until June 2023, though they're struggling in the bottom three this term.

They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany's most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. As unlikely as it would be in any scenario, if Messi could lead them to challenge the might of Bayern Munich, it would be an unforgettable story.

If not... well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness' sake. It's too perfect.

NEWELL'S OLD BOYS

What could be more magical than Messi returning to where it all began? A lifelong Newell's fan, Messi was on their books as a youngster until they – and River Plate afterwards – were unable to pay for necessary growth hormone treatment.

Before then, as the story goes, Messi had scored nearly 500 goals in youth football for the club, and throughout his days as a professional he has been linked with a future move to Newell's prior to retiring.

As recently as last year Messi expressed doubt that such a "dream" could ever happen due to the needs of his family.

It is the move football romanticists will want to see and, while unlikely, Messi did leave the door open: "I will try to convince the family."

LEEDS UNITED

It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell's Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario's other most famous football export in Yorkshire?

Leeds United are back in the Premier League at last, having swept all before them in the Championship in 2019-20 under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.

The chance to help awaken a sleeping giant of the English game while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that's too good to miss.

Plus, if he wanted to visit Sergio Aguero, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.

Luis Suarez says he and Lionel Messi prefer not to talk about football with each other as the Atletico Madrid striker prepares to face Barcelona for the first time since leaving the club in September. 

Surez joined Atletico in a €6million deal after six years at Camp Nou, leaving Messi furious at the club for "kicking out" his close friend. 

Messi also came close to leaving the Catalan giants during the off-season after revealing he wanted to trigger a clause in his contract to depart on a free transfer, although the validity of such a stipulation was murky due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The saga was brought to a temporary end on September 4 when the forward announced he will stay at the club for another year, rather than challenge Barca in a legal battle.

Messi and Suarez will face off at Wanda Metropolitano in LaLiga on Saturday, but the Uruguayan says they are unlikely to discuss the game this week. 

"The truth is that we speak a lot, but honestly we talk about our life," Suarez told Marca. 

"It was recently the birthday of one of my children, also his. We talked about life, the virus, everything, but very little about football, about the goals we miss or about tactical systems. 

"We worry more about how the family is than about what happens in football."

Suarez has taken quickly to life at Atletico and is the club's joint top scorer this season alongside Joao Felix with five goals from six games – more than any Barca player has scored this campaign. 

Those goals have come from just eight shots on target, while he has also chipped in with one assist. 

Suarez reiterated his disappointment at the way he was forced out of Barca but says he is revelling in life under Diego Simeone at Atletico.

"I was sad and hurt by the way I left – I already said it," he added. "But when they close a door, five more open to you where they value my work, professionalism and trajectory. I feel proud. 

"Where they did not want me, there was another that wanted me. I found happiness and I'm enjoying this moment now."

Atletico have won five of their opening seven matches to sit three points behind surprise leaders Real Sociedad, who have played two games more – while they are 23 unbeaten in LaLiga, their longest undefeated streak in league history and the best current run of any team in the top five European divisions.

Barcelona, meanwhile, are languishing in eighth having picked up just 11 points from their opening seven games. 

On November 16, 2003, a floppy-haired 16-year-old made his first appearance for Barcelona in a friendly against Porto – little did anyone know he would go on to become arguably the greatest to play the sport.

Lionel Messi had not even featured for Barca's B team at the point he was called up to travel with the senior side to Porto for the inauguration of Estadio do Dragao.

Messi made a 15-minute cameo in the 2-0 loss, marking the start of a remarkable career that has been blessed with a vast array of honours, including a record six Ballons d'Or.

Among the players to feature for Barca that day were Rafael Marquez, Xavi and Luis Enrique, true greats of the club, but Messi has gone on to surpass them all.

However, the ugly off-field saga that played out in pre-season suggests the sight of Messi in a Barca shirt might not be one we see after this season.

Despite all of the drama, Messi's goals have undoubtedly solidified his status as an all-time great and here is a look at a chronological top 10 from his collection.

Albacete (H): May 1, 2005

Even at 17, Messi had the confidence of a veteran. Having already seen one goal wrongly ruled out for offside – an audacious chip from the edge of the box – Messi's confidence was far from knocked and just a minute later he latched onto Ronaldinho's scooped pass before lobbing the ball over Albacete goalkeeper Raul Valbuena from 16 yards. Some way to open your account for one of Europe's great clubs.

Malaga (H): March 22, 2009

Thierry Henry's favourite goal by Messi during their time playing together for Barca. Why not let the France great take up the story? "It defied logic what he did," Henry said in the 'Take the Ball, Pass the Ball' documentary. "There's a diagonal ball and he controls it on his chest. He runs full speed, then the first player goes and the second player is just behind. If he takes another step, that player will clear the ball." A shimmy of the body and deft touch later – in the blink of an eye – Messi stabbed into the top corner to conclude a moment of 100-miles-per-hour brilliance.

Real Zaragoza (A): March 21, 2010

Described by some as 'a defining goal' in his career, this strike against Zaragoza seemed to take him from very good into another class entirely. Messi displayed all he had to offer in a goal that began when he won the ball from a tackle at halfway. From there, he shrugged off one challenge, raced towards the box and turned a defender inside out before drilling into the far corner, leaving coach Pep Guardiola speechless.

Real Madrid (A): April 27, 2011

At the height of the Clasico rivalry between Guardiola's Barca and Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, the two teams met four times in three different competitions in less than a month. The league meeting ended in a draw and Madrid won the Copa del Rey final, but Barca triumphed in the Champions League semi-final with a 3-1 aggregate win. The first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, an ill-tempered affair to say the least, saw Messi make it 2-0 by bursting beyond four attempted challenges and slotting past Iker Casillas, all in the space of around five seconds.

Athletic Bilbao (A): April 27, 2013

Barca would regain their LaLiga title from Madrid but were in the midst of a Champions League semi-final shellacking from Bayern when they arrived at San Mames. A goal down in a match that would eventually finish 2-2, Messi received possession from Thiago Alcantara, twisted past Mikel San Jose, Carlos Gurpegui and Ander Herrera with minimal space in which to operate before nonchalantly side-footing home from just inside the penalty area.

Bayern Munich (H): May 6, 2015

Guardiola returned to Camp Nou with a Bayern side struggling with injury problems. They kept Barca at bay until the 77th minute of this Champions League semi-final first leg, when Messi finally struck. It was his second goal that earns a place in this list, though: collecting Ivan Rakitic's pass, a simple-looking shimmy left Jerome Boateng on his backside before he chipped Manuel Neuer with his weaker foot.

Real Madrid (A): April 23, 2017

El Clasico rarely disappoints for football fans around the globe, and this edition was no different. Anything but a win would essentially hand Madrid the title, and it looked to be headed for a 2-2 draw until Sergi Roberto's swashbuckling run in stoppage time gave Jordi Alba the chance to square to Messi, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the area for his 500th Barcelona goal.

Real Betis (A): March 17, 2019

Rarely has a hat-trick been completed in finer fashion. Messi's two goals had helped Barca to a 3-1 lead at the Benito Villamarin, before he passed to Rakitic, ran onto the return ball and sent a first-time chip over goalkeeper Pau Lopez and in off the crossbar from just inside the box. It was a sublime effort that even had the home fans on the feet, applauding – something Messi himself admitted he had not experienced before.

Liverpool (H): May 1, 2019

Over the past few years, Messi has mastered the art of free-kick taking, with the skill being one of few to elude him in his younger days. Liverpool held their own for long periods at Camp Nou but goals from Luis Suarez and Messi gave the hosts breathing space. Jurgen Klopp's side then had to bow to greatness when, after being brought down by Fabinho, Barca's talisman swept an unstoppable 30-yard effort into the top corner. Barcelona would incredibly blow their 3-0 first-leg advantage, however, losing 4-0 at Anfield as Liverpool reached the Champions League final.

Atletico Madrid (A): December 1, 2019

It was goalless in the 86th minute at the Wanda Metropolitano when Messi collected the ball on the right flank, 10 yards inside the Atletico half. Those famous feet began to shuffle with purpose, and although Atletico knew what Messi had in mind, they were powerless to resist the execution of his plan. Messi surged on, playing the ball to Luis Suarez on the edge of the penalty area before taking the return pass and cracking a brilliant 20-yard shot into the bottom left corner of Jan Oblak's goal. A winner, and one of the highest class.

Diego Forlan played down the significance of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi staying in LaLiga, insisting the league would survive without the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Messi's future remains an important topic at Barca after he handed in a transfer request following a tumultuous 2019-20 season.

The Barca captain was tipped to join Premier League powerhouse Manchester City before opting to remain in Spain, though he has since been linked to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

"I wouldn't say it is a gift [Messi finally staying]," former Atletico Madrid forward Forlan, who won the Europa League and UEFA Super Cup during his time in the Spanish capital between 2007 and 2011, told Marca Sport Weekend.

"Obviously, LaLiga has grown up thanks to the great players who played in different club. But LaLiga is LaLiga, and the clubs are very important, and are in the history.

"It is very good he stayed, but they are growing… Leo Messi, Luis [Suarez]… great players, they are changing and LaLiga will be still there… It is more than 90 years history of LaLiga and big stars has been here, and will be also.

"But at the end, what remains in LaLiga, the teams, and that is the important thing."

Messi, who is due to become a free agent at the end of the campaign, has endured an underwhelming start to the 2020-21 season.

The 33-year-old had failed to assist a goal or score from open play in six LaLiga matches before last weekend's 5-2 win over Real Betis, when he also netted from the penalty spot.

Messi started that game on the bench – the first time that has happened in the league since September 2019 – but Barca head coach Ronald Koeman revealed he was carrying a knock.

This season, Messi has scored three goals in LaLiga and six across all competitions for Barca.

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