Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Messi transfer very possible

No way, you say? Just think Gretzky and money and profit and greed

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Lionel MESSI is the social network "king."

This, according to Barcelona-based Internet analysis company Covelo & Co., which earlier this week revealed Messi's name had come up in more than 47 million blogs, tweets and other digital media in recent months.

(The second-highest footballer on the list was the Argentine's Blaugrana teammate Neymar, with 17.7 million mentions.)

But could the king soon have a new kingdom?

It seems an unlikely scenario that Messi would ever suit up for any other club. After all, his achievements at Barcelona have seen him become the best player in the world, and with such a talented supporting cast at Camp Nou one has to wonder if any other team could offer a comparable situation.

But people are wondering, and no doubt a good number of those 47 million mentions have been centred on the speculation.

On Friday, Spanish journalist Francois Gallardo added grist to the rumour mill when he claimed Messi had already "decided to leave (Barcelona) at the end of the season."

Citing a breakdown in the relationship between the four-time Ballon d'Or winner and the Catalan giants, Gallardo's article in Punto Pelota also suggested a "verbal agreement" had been reached between Messi and "another team."

Now, Gallardo's claims have been largely disregarded, in no small part because people simply don't want to believe them.

"Messi and Barcelona are inseparable," the thinking goes. And another cliché: "Messi is too expensive to be transferred in the first place."

Rubbish.

As Canadians well know, there is no such thing as an athlete too prominent or too costly to be sold. This knowledge has come from experience -- a painful realization that, in the sporting world, loyalty, fealty and general goodwill are fantasies all.

It was 25 years ago last summer that Wayne Gretzky was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings by the Edmonton Oilers. For so long the prospect of such a transaction had seemed so unreal when it happened it was like it occurred in the film grain of a bad dream.

The next morning, however, Canadians awoke to the truth that The Great One was no longer theirs; he was hockey's, and the business of hockey had brought about the most extraordinary move in the history of North American sport. If can happen with Gretzky it can happen with Messi, and at some point over the course of his career it probably will.

Incidentally, Gretzky was 27 when he swapped the Great White North for Hollywood, and Messi will be 27 next summer. Gretzky departed Edmonton with four Stanley Cups in the trophy case; Messi has won the Champions League on three occasions.

(And if you want an especially eerie comparison, Gretzky's NHL-record 92 goals in a season is almost identical to Messi's 91 in all competitions in 2012.)

Not that there's any particular relationship between the careers of the two players, nevermind the business practices of their respective sports.

Other than money, of course, and it goes without saying a good deal of it could be made by a lot of people if Messi was, indeed, sold on the transfer market.

Earlier this month it was rumoured Adidas had offered to put Ǩ125 million (C$213 million) towards Messi joining one of Chelsea, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, and while the clothing company denied the report it served as a reminder of just how much profit could be made off merchandise if such a deal was agreed.

Shirts, agents' fees and television sponsorships -- these are the things that drive the business of football. Hockey fans lost their innocence to that a quarter-century ago. In the next few years football fans could lose theirs.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2013 C11

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