Owner Roman Abramovich's vast wealth could bankroll a sensational swoop by Chelsea to sign wantaway Barcelona legend Lionel Messi, with an expert revealing that the Blues are ready to thwart Premier League rivals Man City's move.
City have long been considered favorites to sign Messi should he enforce his right to leave Barcelona at the end of this season, backed by the mega-riches of their Middle Eastern owners and the strong connection between the striker and boss Pep Guardiola.
Chelsea's financial might, which has allowed the to see off the likes of champions Liverpool in the transfer market to sign stars including Timo Werner in recent months, would make them one of the few clubs in the world capable of meeting Messi's wage-bill breaking demands.
"Chelsea are definitely in the equation if Messi becomes available," said journalist Guillem Balague, who has an unparaleled knowledge of Messi as the author of arguably the definitive biography of the Argentina legend. "All that is true.
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"Chelsea will insist that they want to hear everything that's going on. If they have the money, they will want to be involved. Remember - there's no transfer fee."
Messi was keen to leave the club where he has spent his entire career after a dismal, fractious end to last season, but was unable to wrangle his way out of an expired cut-off date that would have allowed clubs to sign him without paying Barca a whopping fee of around $820 million.
His deal ends in 2021, and Balague said that Messi had exchanged "tears and hugs" with his advisors and family after ringing Guardiola, with whom he won the Champions League while the coach was in charge at Camp Nou, during the summer.
Even by the standards of Chelsea's signing sprees, the Blues would need to stretch their spending like never before if they were to beat City to his signature.
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City were reportedly ready to make Messi the highest earner in the Premier League, paying him around $1.2 million a week as part of a five-year, $879 million deal including bonuses, including a $273 million payment that would be made partway through in order to avoid breaking Financial Fair Play rules.
With the forward considered by many as the best in the world on board, any leading Premier League side would likely become favorites to win the title.
While City are still considered Liverpool's main rivals, Chelsea would be catapulted from challengers to frontrunners to win the league, particularly given the early promise of Abramovich's investments in players such as Germany striker Werner, who cost around $60 million, and Kai Havertz, who arrived for $100 million
"What I'm seeing is a guy who's lacking in motivation," said Balague, suggesting that Chelsea were one of the clubs who could bring out the best in Messi again. "He wanted to go and hasn't been able to.
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"Paris St. Germain tried [to sign him]. You've got Inter Milan, and Juventus wanted to put together Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi.
"If anyone had come with the right amount of money, [Juve] would have considered selling Ronaldo because they are in desparate need of money.
"But obviously, if there was a real possibility of them being together, they would have shifted their priorities and made sure the finances were there."
Messi has scored only three goals in eight matches this season in La Liga, where Barcelona are currently languishing in 13th place after winning just three times so far.
Chelsea are third in the Premier League table, two points off the top after losing only one of their opening nine league games.