Richard Buxton: All of Barca waiting for Messi to sign an extension
Unlike before, his allegiance to his only club now has to contend with a head v heart conundrum
Barcelona remain beset by a never-ending cycle; no sooner has one problem been eradicated than another crops up in its place, with Lionel Messi invariably at the fore of each issue.
For now, the Argentina international is going nowhere. An option to walk away from the Nou Camp for free this summer has closed with his refusal to intimate that decision before June 1.
Yet Messi's decision to pass up a final chance to depart during his four-year contract is not the end of Barca's headache, with attention rapidly shifting to the uncertainty which still surrounds his long-term future.
Moves are already afoot to extend his existing contract beyond its expiry in 12 months' time.
Fear and frustration paralysed Catalonia's football-mad epicentre when Messi previously mulled over a renewal in similar circumstances in 2017 before eventually repledging his allegiance.
Even then, the anxiety did not end, with another four months elapsing between the deal being agreed and physically signed.
Many of Barca's battle-hardened supporters accept that such delays are a minor trade-off for the unstinting on-field brilliance of their captain and talisman.
Unlike in previous years, however, Messi is now contending with a head versus heart conundrum.
He has never wavered on the idea of staying at the club that handed him the keys to the pantheon of world football, but several deciding variables are increasingly coming into play.
Messi has publicly warred with president Josep Maria Bartomeu's regime several times this year alone to challenge hierarchical accusations of dressing-room treachery against former Barca manager Ernesto Valverde.
Ongoing hostility at boardroom level threatens to drag on until the club's 2021 elections and potentially further, should Bartomeu's preferred replacement maintain the current status quo.
A difference of opinion at first-team level, too, may discolour the 32-year-old's thought process.
Coach Quique Setien arrived amid great fanfare from those yearning for a belated return to the purist principles that Johan Cruyff set out. His appointment as Valverde's successor in January came just 24 hours after navigating his way through a field of cows in his hometown of Liencres.
Unwittingly, that bovine interaction prepared the former Real Betis coach for his future working relationship with Messi - the pair communicate on different wavelengths.
Setien believes Barca can end their five-year wait for the Champions League this season. Messi disagrees. Only one of them truly knows what it takes to win Europe's elite club competition.
WILL BE OUTLASTED
The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has seen far younger and more accomplished managers come and go in the Nou Camp dugout than its 61-year-old incumbent. History suggests that Setien, too, will be outlasted by an evergreen Messi should he elect to stick with the Spanish champions.
All signs still point to a career-long association but clubs across Europe, and some further afield, will be revving their engines with the clock already ticking on his next crucial deadline.
Delays caused by the recent coronavirus hiatus have left Barca facing a race against time to tie down Messi's long-term future by January, at which point he will be free to negotiate a possible move elsewhere during the last six months of his contract.
Until then, fans will continue to watch with bated breath.