The football world has been rocked in recent days by the news that Lionel Messi appears to be done with FC Barcelona. We’re used to rumours of transfer requests or general dissatisfaction chasing star players throughout their careers, and there have been vague suggestions of impending Messi departures in the past. But this time, the news is concrete.
According to a Metro report on the recent developments, the Argentinian superstar has “informed Barcelona via fax” that he wants to leave. Messi also cited a clause in his contract that allows him to leave for free at the end of any season, which further implies he’s given this some real thought. It’s worth noting as well that the decision by Messi comes on the heels of arguably the most brutal loss of his European football career — a 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter finals.
Every bit as interesting as Messi’s decision to leave Barcelona, however, is speculation about where he might go next. And while a few clubs have been mentioned, it has quickly become clear that Manchester City is leading the pack.
There have been reports already that Messi favours a move to the Etihad, and the early odds reflect the likelihood of this outcome. Manchester City have been labelled a clear favourite, with a potential reunion between Messi and former boss Pep Guardiola cited as one of the key factors involved. Inter Milan and PSG are being discussed as well, as are Manchester United and Juventus to a lesser degree — but the prevailing impression is that Messi and Man City are circling one another.
Ultimately, this doesn’t settle the question of whether or not Messi is coming to the Premier League. But the idea makes sense from both multiple angles. From a tactical perspective, City looks to provide some excellent opportunities for the iconic forward. While it’s a given that an attack will be built around Messi anywhere he ends up, potential formations demonstrate some particularly appealing opportunities for him. One is to slot into Guardiola’s vaunted “false nine” formation, with Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus on either side of him. Another is simply to stay on the right wing and form a devastating attacking trio with Sterling and Sergio Agüero. Any way you look at it, Messi and Man City are well aware they would quickly be forming one of the most potent attacking sides in recent history.
For Messi as an individual, the move would also represent a chance to boost his résumé for the history books. While he’s unquestionably among the greatest players of all time (and considered the very greatest by many), Messi has had his share of disappointments at domestic and international level. Despite four Champions League titles at Barcelona, there’s a feeling among some fans that there should have been more (including possibly this year’s). And while Messi has led some extraordinarily talented teams for Argentina, the national team has fallen well short of expectations time and time again. When Bwin ranked the best international sports teams recently, the football list included Brazil and Germany as the most successful, while detailing how Argentina have lost two high profile finals. Years ago, when Messi was emerging as a young star, many expected Argentina to dominate world football. None of this is to suggest that Messi’s accomplishments are anything less than stellar. But winning a Premier League title (or a few) and claiming a Champions League trophy with a new club would take his reputation to new heights, and possibly beyond Ronaldo’s for good.
From the club’s perspective meanwhile, this is a chance to make a quick splash and get back to the top of the Premier League. After Liverpool secured the Premier League title, it’s no wonder that management (and Guardiola) are looking into fairly dramatic avenues for rapid improvement. Picking up Messi would put Man City in the driving seat, and would likely set them on a pace to compete with Liverpool at the top of the table. Plus, we know City have the finances to make a move of this nature work.
It remains to be seen what Messi’s exit will look like, or how a Manchester City contract would be structured. Right now, there are even rumours that such a contract would include a clause that would send Messi to the U.S. to play for sister club NYCFC after three seasons. Details aside though, it currently looks more than likely that Messi will be making his way to Manchester.