Premier League

Lionel Messi: Should Manchester City sign him or not?

The Argentine is arguably the closest he has come in his career to leaving the Camp Nou, and Pep Guardiola might want a reunion

3:00pm on Sunday 22nd November 2020
Graham Ruthven

Lionel Messi's options to leave Barcelona are not exactly plentiful, and reports on Sunday are suggesting that one of the most obvious avenues for exit may no longer exist.

La Liga reporter Semra Hunter has suggested that City have reassessed the situation and have decided against making a move for the 33-year-old in January, when Messi is able to renegotiate terms with any club he wishes.

The reasons for and against signing Messi are compelling and, at the moment, City seem to be edging towards the negatives rather then positives.

For the longest time the idea of Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona was difficult to envisage but given his protracted attempts to leave the club in the summer, coupled with his and indeed Barca's overall poor form, the situation is growing increasingly untenable.

Messi is the game’s highest-paid player, collecting a reported €2 million-a-week before tax and so only a handful of clubs would have the financial muscle to pick up such a salary. Inter and Paris Saint-Germain have both been mentioned as potential destinations (and also been roundly denied) and Manchester City always seemed the most plausible option.

Lionel Messi: The case for signing him

There is little doubt the signing of Messi would improve Manchester City as a team. With David Silva now a Real Sociedad player having left the Etihad Stadium at the end of his contract, Guardiola could use another creator and Messi could perform that role. The Argentine has adapted his game in recent times, becoming more of a playmaker than a goalscorer, contributing a record 21 La Liga assists for Barcelona last season (0.63 assists per 90 minutes).

Nobody came close to Messi for big chances created in La Liga last season, carving out an incredible 34. He was the division’s most prolific dribbler, averaging 5.4 per 90 minutes, and was also Spain’s most accurate shot-taker, averaging 2.2 shots on target per 90 minutes. These are numbers largely matched by Kevin De Bruyne in the Premier League last season, hinting at where Messi could fit in.

Alongside De Bruyne and Rodri in central midfield, with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus ahead of him, Messi would have the kind of support system around him that he is currently missing at Barcelona.

Lionel Messi - the case against signing him

How would Messi handle the relentless pace of the Premier League? In recent seasons, he has become the master of resting mid-game, preserving his energy for when he receives the ball in the final third. Messi spends more time walking than any other player in La Liga. The pay-off comes in the explosiveness of his attacking movements. This method of management would be tougher in the Premier League, though, especially if Guardiola were to use Messi in midfield.

The circus that would come with Manchester City signing Messi would also overshadow all else at the club. This would boost City’s profile further than any other signing, managerial appointment or title win has to date, but the spotlight Messi’s arrival would cast on the Etihad Stadium could make the club a challenging environment. Does any of that really fit with what Pep is building on the field? Probably not.

Despite all the reasons for City to continue with their rebuild as originally planned, the opportunity to sign the greatest player of all time for the final years of his career might prove irresistible.

Messi has publicly made winning the Champions League again his primary objective, irked at having watched Real Madrid lift the famous old trophy four times in the last six years while Barcelona have suffered humiliation in knockout defeats to Roma, Liverpool and Bayern Munich. This desire would align with Manchester City’s to be crowned European champions. Messi could push them over the line.

In many ways, a City move for Messi would be reckless, at least from a financial standpoint, and a transfer out of keeping with the club’s strategy of the last few years. Claudio Bravo was the last player City signed over the age of 30.

But Messi as a player has always defied logic. Just because there are countless reasons for Manchester City not to sign Messi doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

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