Lionel Messi: Who will take Barcelona legend’s No. 10 shirt when he leaves Camp Nou?

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Lionel Messi is determined to force his way out of Barcelona this summer.

The Camp Nou legend believes he is now a free agent as reports emerge from Spain that his €700 million release clause no longer exists.

Messi, according to reliable reports, now wants to complete a move to Manchester City.

The 33-year-old failed to attend Sunday’s PCR test.

Barça’s recently-appointed head coach Ronald Koeman instructed 31 players, including Messi, to show up for the Covid-19 test. But Messi, who’d informed the club of his decision not to attend beforehand, wasn’t present.

As the situation between Messi and Barcelona threatens to turn ugly, fans are starting to wonder who might replace the Argentine at Camp Nou next season.

It’s hard to imagine another player taking Messi’s No. 10 shirt - but one man has already made an incredibly audacious request for it.

Spanish outlet 20 minutos, per Marca, claim that Martin Braithwaite - yes, Martin Braithwaite! - has asked to be given Messi’s squad number if the six-time Ballon d’Or winner leaves this summer.

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Braithwaite, who scored one goal in 11 appearances for the Catalan giants after completing a surprise move from Leganes in February, currently wears the No. 19 shirt and is contracted to the club until 2024.

The former Middlesbrough striker has been linked with a move away from Barcelona in recent weeks but remains determined to stay put.

Braithwaite is one of a group of players who could potentially replace Messi as Barça’s No. 10…

Martin Braithwaite

Right, let’s get Braithwaite out of the way first.

The 29-year-old has virtually zero chance of becoming Barcelona’s new number 10.

You have to admire his guts for even asking in the first place. What on earth was he thinking?!

Just imagine for a second, if you will, the reaction of the fans if Braithwaite took Messi’s famous shirt number. Camp Nou would be ablaze hours later.

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Lautaro Martinez

Will Barcelona hand the No. 10 to another Argentine?

Lautaro Martinez is one of the club’s main transfer targets and is a much more realistic Messi replacement than Braithwaite. Sorry, Martin, but even you know it’s true.

The 23-year-old has scored 30 goals in 84 games for Inter over the past two seasons.

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Riyad Mahrez

Manchester City may offer one or two players to Barcelona as part of the deal to take Messi to the Etihad Stadium.

Riyad Mahrez could be one of them, and the Algerian forward would presumably be open to moving in the opposite direction if Messi joins Guardiola’s side.

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Neymar

Barcelona would love to bring Neymar back to Camp Nou, three years after the Brazilian left the club for Paris Saint-Germain.

Neymar wanted to return last summer, but whether he’d still be as determined to come back without Messi is unclear.

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Sadio Mane

Liverpool’s Sadio Mane has been linked with a shock move to Barcelona in recent days.

The Senegal international is very settled at Anfield, so it’s hard to imagine this particular transfer happening.

If it did, though, Mane - who Messi voted for FIFA’s The Best aware in 2019 - would certainly be a leading contender to become Barça’s new No. 10.

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Philippe Coutinho

If Messi leaves, would that affect Philippe Coutinho’s future? It’s certainly possible.

The Brazilian, who spent last season on loan at Bayern Munich, could flourish in a Messi-less Barcelona side.

Koeman, who will have faced Coutinho on several occasions during his time managing Southampton and Everton, could use the South American as his new No. 10 from the 2020-21 season onwards.

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Ansu Fati

One of Barcelona’s brightest young talents, Ansu Fati currently wears the No. 31 shirt at Camp Nou.

Handing the 17-year-old Messi’s shirt number would probably put too much pressure on his young shoulders.

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Riqui Puig

Another La Masia graduate, Riqui Puig is four years older than Fati but is also regarded as one of the club’s most exciting youngster.

The classy midfielder is also unlikely to inherit Messi’s No. 10 shirt, but you never know…

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Antoine Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann is poised to play a more prominent role under Koeman next season and is expected to switch from No. 17 to No. 7 at the start of the upcoming season.

But would the Frenchman prefer the number 10 shirt instead?

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Paulo Dybala

Another potential big-money Messi replacement, Paulo Dybala enjoyed an excellent season with Juventus last term and is surely on Barcelona’s radar.

Dybala wears No. 10 at Juve and would surely jump at the chance to take his compatriot’s squad number if he moved to Camp Nou.

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Retire the shirt number

Or, Barcelona may decide to retire Messi’s shirt number.

That seems increasingly unlikely given how the relationship between the club and player has broken down, but Barça must pay some sort of tribute to their greatest ever player when he leaves.

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