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Sport: Manchester City set sights on Lionel Messi deal

MANCHESTER City have been working behind the scenes to sign Lionel Messi as the fallout at Barcelona over his transfer request gathers pace.

Boss Pep Guardiola has reportedly spoken to the six-time Ballon d’Or winner directly, with the club holding talks with the Argentinian’s father Jorge in a bid to complete the biggest transfer coup in Premier League history.

City appear to be ahead of Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Inter Milan in the race to sign Messi (pictured) thanks to his relationship with Guardiola, who spent four years as head coach of Barcelona, while chief executive Ferran Soriano was also previously with the Catalan giants.

Angry fans gathered outside the Nou Camp to protest against the possible departure of a player who has scored 634 goals in 763 games for the club and Barcelona are still fighting to keep the 33-year-old.

The prospect of the superstar leaving after almost 16 years became real on Tuesday night when he asked for his contract — which has a year to run — to be terminated under an end-of-season release clause, just days after Ronald Koeman was named as Barca’s new boss.

Even if he was to move without a transfer fee — and that seems unlikely without extensive legal wrangling — the cost of signing Messi would be immense. His wages and image rights earn him £78million a year and are further enhanced by performance bonuses.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has been the focus for angry fans, already reeling at this month’s 8-2 Champions League semi-final humiliation by Bayern Munich, and the club will not let Messi leave without a fight.

‘We want to rebuild for the future together with the best player in history,’ technical director Ramon Planes said as he unveiled £28m new signing Francisco Trincao yesterday.

‘We count on Messi for the future, just as we count on Trincao as a talent of the future. We are putting every effort into ensuring that the relationship between Barca and Messi will continue.’