LIONEL MESSI will 'most likely' leave Barcelona in the summer, according to presidential candidate Agusti Benedito.
The 56-year-old is hoping to succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu in the top job at the Catalan club during the elections later this month.
But while he admits that retaining Messi would be the 'best news' for the club, he is realistic in his assumptions.
He told ESPN: "Keeping Messi would be the best news for the club but I am not very optimistic.
"Given the club's situation, I think it's really important that he stays at Barca, with the understanding that he understands the next two years we have in front us [could be difficult].
"He's been here for 20 years; he's a Barcelona fan and I think he's sensitive to the situation.
"He has given us so much in the same way that Barcelona have given him a lot and it's time for us all to roll up our sleeves.
"I would have liked him to say in his interview the other week that his desire is to stay at the club, but he didn't and now we have to wait and see. The truth is I am pessimistic.
"Remember that in August he said he wanted to leave after 20 years and now he's still not cleared up what he wants to do.
"The most likely outcome I see is that he leaves us in the summer."
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Since an understated start to the season by his high standards, Messi, 33, has rolled up his sleeves – scoring ten goals and assisting a further six in 19 outings this season.
But in a recent interview with La Sexta he refused to commit to the club long term, even opening the door to a move to MLS.
He said: "I've always had the dream of playing in another league, in the United States.
"Maybe it will happen, doesn't have to be right away. Today I am just focused on these next six months."
A move to Manchester City, reuniting with Pep Guardiola, could provide Messi with the perfect pathway to the US – given the City Group's ownership of New York City FC.
Alternatively, he may opt to link up with compatriot Mauricio Pochettino at Paris Saint-Germain.
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