Premier League

Lionel Messi: The case for and against Manchester City

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

7:00am on Wednesday 26th August 2020
Graham Ruthven

A few minor spats around contract extension and salaries aside, Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona, for a long time, seemed difficult to envisage.

And whether is a power play or not, to show his disdain for current club president Josef Maria Bartomeu, there is a game of poker being played which may yet end with the Argentine departing the place he has called home for two decades.

This has led to discussion over which clubs could possibly make a move for the 33-year-old. Messi is the game’s highest-paid player, collecting a reported €2 million-a-week before tax (as per Football Leaks), 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, but Manchester City seems the most plausible option, should this indeed be a genuine attempt to leave Camp Nou.

At the Etihad Stadium, Messi would be reunited with Pep Guardiola, slotting into a system that harnesses diminutive creators. Messi knows both City directors Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano from their days at Barcelona, back when those in the Camp Nou boardroom weren’t always in open warfare with the players on the pitch.

City have been linked with a move for Messi for as long as Guardiola has been at the club, with a level of interest maintained in the player. Now though that City might actually have a shot of pulling off the biggest transfer in the history of the sport, there are a number of factors to consider. This could be a case of head versus heart.

There is little doubt the signing of Messi would improve Manchester City as a team. There isn’t a team on the planet the great man wouldn’t make better. 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. But how would Messi handle the relentless pace of the Premier League?

33 yrs - F (RC) - Barcelona
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In recent seasons, Messi has become the master of resting mid-game, preserving his energy for when he receives the ball in the final third. Now 33, 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.

A squad overhaul is required at the Etihad Stadium before the start of the 2020/21 season, with moves already made for Nathan Ake and Ferran Torres. The money it would take to sign Messi, however, would put this rebuild on hold. The signing of Messi would come with a sacrifice. City would most likely be a more unbalanced side with the Argentine within their ranks.

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.

Despite all this, 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. If the decision is left up to Guardiola, an offer will surely land in Josep Bartomeu’s email inbox at some point this summer.

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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