Barcelona want to keep Lionel Messi at the club until he is 36 years old and are relying on his contentment off the field as being just as important a factor in him signing a new contract as his happiness on it.
Barcelona paper Mundo Deportivo have reported that Messi, 31, has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave on a free in 2020 provided he does not go to another big European club.
China, Japan and Qatar will be lining up to take advantage of that get-out. And Barcelona are wary of him following Xavi to Doha to play for Al-Sadd or Andres Iniesta, who moved to Japan last summer to sign for Vissel Kobe in the J1 League.
Lionel Messi remains king of Barcelona, adored by 100,000 fans at the Nou Camp every game and millions more worldwide
But off pitch his life is simple, revolving around his family – wife Antonella, sons Thiago, Mateo and Ciro, and their dog, Hulk
There is also the example of Ezequiel Lavezzi, who is at Hebei China Fortune or Zlatan Ibrahimovic at LA Galaxy. Messi has a theme park due to open in China in 2020 so that might fit with a move there. And the US could be preferable for his young family.
There is certainly no shortage of lucrative offers so what makes Barca believe he will not walk away in two years time? The answers lies in how happy he is living in Catalonia, his home since he was 13.
Messi is no longer the awkward, timid teenager who first showed his face at the club’s La Masia youth academy. Neither is he the 20-something, slightly gullible, butt of dressing-room-prankster Gerard Pique’s jokes. The defender used to replace the battery in Messi’s phone and then watch him wander around the dressing room asking if anyone had a charger because his phone was out of juice despite him charging it that morning.
He is now the boss, the leader. But he remains hugely private and, as Pique once described him, ‘ridiculously normal’. He prefers to spend his time at home with his three sons Thiago, Mateo and Ciro, his wife Antonella and the family super-sized French mastiff dog, Hulk, in the small beach town of Bellamar just down the coast from Barcelona.
It’s there that Messi can live a normal life. He can even stroll to the local school to pick up his sons, often in the company of Luis Suarez, who lives on the same complex and has children of a similar age.
The Bellamar neighbourhood – a beach town south of Barcelona, with four miles of sand and set back in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean – has long been the go-to gated community for top local sportspeople.
Neymar, Javier Mascherano and basketball star Pau Gasol have all had property here. Philippe Coutinho moved in last year when he joined the club from Liverpool. Messi is a good neighbour with ‘great security, which helps us all’, as Suarez joked last year.
In the comfort of his own home he can enjoy a kickabout with his sons on the floodlit miniature football pitch in the back garden, relax by the pool, gaze out across the ocean and even indulge in the occasional barbecue, although not too frequently if he wants to extend his career.