Lionel Messi’s legacy at Barcelona and his contribution to football is unparalleled. However, the little magician is edging the age of 33, and it might be time for someone else to take over the reigns for the Blaugrana.
Lionel Messi holds the status of a deity for the fans of the club and the people of Catalonia. He is genuinely right up there with Antoni Gaudi when you speak of people that the city of Barcelona adore. He cannot, and will not be replaced.
He is going to leave a massive void for the Blaugrana, that is going to hurt them for quite some time. You’re talking about creativity, dribbling, goalscoring, goal creation, aesthetics, set-piece ability, clutch moments, and so much more. Messi might be one of the most complete players ever, if not the most complete forward ever.
There’s not one player who could directly replace Messi and do everything he does. And that is why Barcelona should follow the model Real Madrid built on after they sold Cristiano Ronaldo. They got upwards of a €100 million for a 34-year-old, but took their time before they started investing that money.
In an ideal situation, the replacement of Ronaldo would have to pull the weight of the team, contributing nearly 50 goals every season, but Madrid looked at players that could entirely come up with a new system where in the team does not rely on one player for goals.
The problem that lies here is that at the moment, Messi IS the team. Barcelona has a entire cluster of superstars, like Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Arthur, Frenkie de Jong; but there hasn’t been a team that is so full of talented individuals, but relied on the ability of one man.
This is not a ‘big fish in a small pond’ situation. The Argentine is a big fish in a big pond, and that is why Barcelona should come up with an entirely new system when Messi leaves.
An advantage that plays into the favour of Barca is that Messi, unlike how so many people predicted, has not moved into central midfield. He continues to function as an attacker, playing in the hole. He starts wide, but slowly drifts into the middle in an attempt to attack space via the centre through defence splitting passes and movement.
Barcelona have very able midfielders, and going into the market looking for attacking replacement should be easier. However, the Catalan giants should look at a very certain criteria to replace Messi: young, long-term solutions, who are showing incredible potential and have minimal injury history.
Josep Bartemou & co. have messed up one too many major deals in the recent past, but they’ll have to absolutely nail this one. The Hard Tackle now looks at 3 players that could replace Lionel Messi, in the order of: one from the academy; one expensive deal; one alternative option.
From the Academy: Ansu Fati
Fati successfully succeeding Messi at Barcelona would be almost poetic for Camp Nou faithfuls because of how he has progressed from the academy. The 17-year-old was called up to the first-team at the age of 16 after injuries to Suarez and Messi left the team short-handed in attack. Since then he’s been a first-team regular for the club, impressing in all competitions, and setting several records.
There have been many comparisons drawn between the club captain and Fati. Both of them got an early call up for Barca after impressing in the youth ranks. Both of them made their debut at the age of 16. Messi as a teenager had a very similar playing style as Fati: stretching defences by staying wide and running at defences. The Spanish teenager, however, lacks the vision that Messi had and developed from and early age.
If Fati is given ample game time, and is managed properly, he can undoubtedly become the next sensation in world football and take the throne from Messi. Moreover, this substitution could save Barcelona a lot of money and provide a very long-term solution.
Expensive deal: Jadon Sancho
Borussia Dortmund’s superstar Jadon Sancho is on the radars of almost every club right now, impressing for two consecutive seasons. He’s been doing sensationally well since he made the bold move of leaving Manchester City in the hope of more game time.
The Englishman has already overtaken his overall tally from last season and has been involved directly in 29 goals this season. He also featured in the 3-1 beating Dortmund took against Barcelona, scoring his club’s consolation goal.
His departure from Germany is almost inevitable at this point. Dortmund have slapped a £120 million price tag on him, but considering the number of clubs looking to add him to their team, a bidding war is almost imminent.
Sancho shows maturity and selflessness on the ball far beyond his age, and that is visible in his assist numbers which have been in direct competition with Messi’s for 2 seasons. Besides, the 20-year-old can and has played rather brilliantly on either flank and through the middle. His creative flair and attacking prowess shows he’s ready for a big move, and transfer to become the successor of the greatest player on the planet is the biggest move he can get.
Alternative Option: Marcus Rashford
It’s been so long since Rashford’s starring debut against FC Midtjylland, people tend to forget he’s only 22, far from his peak and does not deserve the criticism he gets. It is a very real possibility that the Englishman would want to stay and develop his career at Manchester United throughout, specially considering the English club’s rebuild.
But much like any other player, if Rashford wants to have a very real shot at the biggest trophies in the world, he would have to take his services to Spain. The 22-year-old is a tricky attacker who can do the job through the centre or from the flanks. If there is a player that Rashford most closely resembles, it is the aforementioned world beater, Cristiano.
After struggling for a constant starting spot, and a permanent position under Jose Mourinho, Rashford has finally settled in under Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer’s system as a left-winger. He has already overtaken his best-ever goals tally in the Premier League, scoring 14 goals this season.
Rashford was unquestionably the leading man at United this season, taking charge to take the club to a Champions League spot before suffering from a long-term injury in January.
Rashford has looked more confident than before and that has reflected in his game. He’s already the main man at United and one of the best players in the PL, but if he wants to win honours, and take a path unlike his national teammate Harry Kane, he would want to get out of the rebuild and join a team like Barcelona, where he has the chance to play with the greatest of all time.