The Hard Tackle takes a look at three potential destinations for Lionel Messi, who is facing an uncertain future at Barcelona and is tipped to leave.
Just when we thought we would not be getting anything more from an already eccentric 2020, in a bizarre turn of events, Lionel Messi has been linked with a move away from Barcelona. Yes, you read that right – the man who has been at the team since the age of 13 is ready to leave.
This news was initially broken out by Marcelo Bechler – the same journalist who was the first to report Neymar’s departure from Barcelona – after the shock 8-2 humbling against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League. However, reports suggest that this decision was in the works by Messi for a long time, and their crashing exit from the competition pulled the trigger for the same.
Messi’s exit seems to be the only thing everyone can talk about for the past two days, with the news transcending across various sports, with teams publicly inviting the Argentine to join them – more often than not superficially. Still, it all explains the status the great man has gained as an athlete in the past decade.
His departure was never going to be an easy one, with the two parties ready to take it to court over a clause in Messi’s deal which allows him to exit the club on a free transfer every year unanimously. Barcelona suggest that the clause expired in June and cannot be exercised now, while Messi is persisting that it can be, because of the season extension.
Transfer fee aside, the biggest problem for any team right now would be his humongous wages, which narrows down the pool of teams to a select few. The Hard Tackle takes a look at five clubs Lionel Messi could end up at, and how he would fit there.
The easiest pick in the list, Manchester City, is probably one of two clubs who could not only afford his wages but bid an excessive amount of money as transfer fee that could force Barcelona’s hand. Additionally, their tremendous squad depth dictates that they will be able to add a player or two in the transfer to sweeten the deal and/or avoid FFP regulations.
However, their riches is probably not the reason why Messi could be choosing Manchester City as his next destination. This deal boils down to Pep Guardiola, the man largely credited with unleashing the best out of Messi during his four-year stay at Barcelona. The only problem with it is how does the 33-year-old fits into Guardiola’s strict system?
To seek the answer, we have to head back to 2009, when Messi was introduced as a False 9 for the first time against Real Madrid. Messi has since gone to play that role, or something similar at least once under all his managers. Guardiola, too, has tried to deploy the system at both Bayern Munich and Manchester City, most recently against Real Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16.
Gabriel Jesus would get the nod ahead of Sergio Aguero in this team, because of his dynamic nature and relentless stamina. Moreover, at the age of 32, Aguero can hardly boast of the work rate a Pep Guardiola winger calls for.
Alternatively, Messi could play on the right of his compatriot Aguero in a 4-3-3, but this would demand a lot more work-rate from Messi than he is used to. Regardless, imagine the number of chances that Manchester City could create through Kevin De Bruyne and Messi working together.
The other team that could realistically afford the kind of money Lionel Messi demands is Paris Saint-Germain.
Barcelona and PSG’s bitter history is quite well known in the footballing world since 2017, when the French club poached Neymar off Barcelona by paying his €222 million release clause while the Blaugrana were trying to close in on the signing of Marco Verratti.
That said, this decision might not land in the hands of Barcelona, who would be forced to sell another of the famous MSN trio to the French champions.
Over the last two years, Messi has overtly spoken about Neymar’s departure from Barcelona and how he wants the Brazilian to join the club again. His return to Barcelona has failed to pull through over the last two years and a chance to reunite with Neymar could turn out to be a significant catalyst in this transfer.
Moreover, PSG’s project seems to have finally picked up the pace it was promising over the last few years, as the club came within touching distance of winning the Champions League, losing to Bayern Munich 1-0 in the final. Messi could turn out to be the missing piece in this incomplete Paris puzzle.
In the most realistic scenario, Messi would either be deployed through the centre or on the right, with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. During his time at Barcelona, the Argentine was crying out for a runner and had to make do with Jordi Alba as his best option. With the help of Mbappe, though, PSG could register a lot more goals than they have this past term, with Mbappe leading the attack.
There is also space to figure in Mauro Icardi, who could lead the line for PSG, with Messi playing off of him, Neymar on the left and Mbappe on the right. This structure is obviously too good for its own good, and would not work outside of Ligue 1. But imagine a trio of Neymar, Mbappe and Messi. Who is going to halt this train?
While speaking of Manchester City, we must not forget that the city boasts of another club with very rich owners and a history of great players. We are obviously referring to Manchester United.
Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, United have failed to challenge for the Premier League courtesy of a series of problems on the pitch. Despite hiring some very reputed managers in Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and David Moyes, the board has failed to provide a strong backing to help these coaches fix problems on the pitch.
One of these problems is the right-wing spot. For years now, United have struggled to fill this position, bringing in various players like Memphis Depay and Angel Di Maria, among many others. Most recently, though, United have been famously linked with Jadon Sancho, whose €120 million price tag is the only thing putting off the Red Devils.
The club recently got rid of Alexis Sanchez’s vast wage bill after his move to Inter Milan was confirmed and have space in their budget to reel in Messi, especially if he comes for free. The team is midway through a sporting project and has improved leaps and bounds under Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer, who has brought in the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes to the club.
Messi will be played in his favoured right-wing role and will have the aid of Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford with him – three players incredibly adept at creating spaces by switching positions on the pitch. Messi, on the right side, could also mean Wan-Bissaka does not have to push up the pitch as frequently as he does.
His arrival at the Theatre of Dreams could also mean he could serve as the mentor to Mason Greenwood – the 18-year-old United academy product who has just started to make a name for himself. Rest assured, there is going to be a lot of competitions for the set pieces in this Manchester United lineup.
There are very few clubs in the world right now that are not undergoing an important rebuild. But one club that is taking centre stage amidst this chaos and wasting no time in doing business is Chelsea. The Blues have already confirmed three signings – Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Timo Werner, with the arrivals of Thiago Silva and Kai Havertz inevitable.
Lionel Messi could become the centre-piece of this refurnished Chelsea, who have already gained a reputation of playing free-flowing quick football under Frank Lampard. They have, at times, lacked a creator in the final third and have had to stick with the same routine of rugged low passes played across the box.
We have to assume that Messi will be deployed in the centre in this team, with Ziyech slotting in on the right. Messi and Ziyech have played under similar schools of thought at Barcelona and Ajax, respectively. They will be able to benefit from that, probably forming the kind of understanding the Argentine had with Pedro.
Much like the other teams mentioned here, Chelsea, too, gloat of several runners, like Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner, who will be able to add to Messi’s passing options. Alternatively, Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud could serve as the target for Messi’s famous lobbed through balls. All the makings of an exciting side.
Inter Milan is a bit different from the rest of the clubs mentioned here. They have not adequately fought for or won a trophy in the recent past and are certainly not known for their spending, despite bringing in a bunch of players since the arrival of Antonio Conte. They, have, however, been linked with Messi in the past and have popped up yet again as one of the teams that could sign him this summer.
The current Inter team, though, is not based on a system that will suit Messi or one that he has played in his career. It is built around defensive solidity and strength on the wings.
That said, a move to the Serie A could undoubtedly be enticing for La Pulga, as it is known for its slow nature, which helps even older players feel comfortable. It would also re-flame his old rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo, who is currently at the helm of Inter’s key rivals – Juventus. The duo have admitted in the past that their rivalry helped bring the best out of each other and it would certainly bring in several more eyes to the league.
Conte has used a three-man backline his entire coaching career, playing variations of four, five or six-man midfield ahead of it, but he might be forced to change his system to include Messi. That said, in the current team, a slot in the hole might suit Messi best, playing behind the deadly duo of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez.
Not only will he have options just ahead of him, but he will also have players attacking from either side of the wing, giving him more possibilities. Additionally, he will have the chance to combine with his compatriot Lautaro, who has been linked with a move away from Inter to none other than Barcelona but might be inclined to stay if Messi arrives.
With the sacking of Maurizio Sarri and the subsequent appointment of an inexperienced coach in Andrea Pirlo, there might be no better time for Inter Milan to win the Scudetto – a title they came agonisingly close to this season, missing out by just one point.