A surprise club is reportedly prepared to pay Lionel Messi's €700 million (R10.3 billion) release clause, and has already signed two of his friends to help convince him of the move.
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The Argentine extended his contract with FC Barcelona until 2021 recently, becoming the highest paid player in football in the process.
He reportedly snubbed multiple offers from several top clubs in Europe as well as in China, but Hebei China Fortune are understood to be determined to take him to the Far East after Messi was named as the most popular player among Chinese football fans last week, beating the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba.
According to Mundo Deportivo, Hebei China Fortune, who already have Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Mascherano on their books, are prepared to pay his €700 million release clause.
Apparently the Chinese club believes in not only his sporting returns, but also feel the deal would make financial sense because it will raise the image of the club and Chinese football as a whole.
Huge Chinese companies and even the country's government could reportedly help the deal transpire, while the club is also said to hope Messi's Argentina teammates Lavezzi and Mascherano can help convince him of the record transfer.
However, recent new regulations have made it more difficult for Chinese clubs to spend big on transfers. A new transfer tax of 100% of the fee for overseas players was introduced, and reduced the Chinese spending in January, although Chinese Super League sides are believed to be looking for loopholes around this.
Cedric Bakambu, for example, joined Beijing Guoan last month after reportedly paying his former club Villarreal his own €40 million (R590 million) buyout clause. However, the tax implications of his deal are still being scrutinised.
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