Bye bye Barcelona? Livid Lionel Messi would make a MASSIVE impact if Man City, Liverpool or Man Utd lure him to the Premier League
Even within the context of Barcelona’s ongoing tribulations, this has been an unsettling, almost unparalleled week.
On Thursday, the Copa del Rey witnessed one of the most seismic nights in its history, with Barca and Real Madrid going out on the same night for what historians reckon is the first time since 1955, picked off by a 4-3 win for Real Sociedad at the Bernabeu and a 93rd-minute Sergio Busquets goal at Athletic Bilbao.
Along with holders Valencia’s exit courtesy of a 94th-minute winner at Granada, Barcelona were in good company among the shocked – given their miserable away form and the fact that Liga leaders Madrid were 21 games unbeaten, their defeat was hardly the most surprising of the three.
That wasn’t even the lowlight of the week at Camp Nou, serving merely to compound the sense of turmoil after Lionel Messi called out Sporting Director Eric Abidal on social media over comments the latter had made regarding the departure of former manager Ernesto Valverde, and club president Josep Maria Bartomeu was forced to hold meetings with both in an attempt to restore order.Also on rt.com ‘We shouldn’t throw sh*t at ourselves’: Alba wades into Messi-Abidal row as ructions threaten to derail Barcelona’s season
All of which leaves Messi as close as he has been since signing a new contract in 2017 to leaving the only club he has ever represented, holding the power to depart for any destination on a free transfer should he choose to do so by June 30.
Manchester City, who first tried to sign him more than 10 years ago, are thought to be best placed to capitalize, raising the tantalising prospect of Messi arriving in the Premier League – at its richest club.
Different league: what do the numbers suggest about Messi in England?
“Chaos” is how Sam Lee, the writer who broke the story in The Athletic about City’s owners being interested in the slim but feasible chance of Messi moving to Manchester, describes any potential Premier League move, and Messi’s stats alone make that seem a fair word to use.
At his current rate of pretty much a goal per game, the man who is on course to become La Liga’s top scorer for a fourth successive season would, depending on how much City use him, be likely to eclipse Mohamed Salah’s record in a 38-game season of 32 goals.
He’d also fancy his chances of beating Alan Shearer and Andy Cole’s tally of 34 goals in a top-flight season during the mid-90s.
Depending on how long he stayed in England, he’d probably threaten Shearer’s record as the quickest player to 100 goals, achieved in 124 matches.
Yet it’s his assists that always stand out, too. While his club has toiled for much of this season, Messi has turned provider for eight goals in 17 Liga appearances, improving on an average that has always been better than an assist every three games.
Should he play in 30 Premier League games – and Sergio Aguero, who is only a year younger than the 32-year-old, played in 33 last season – he could be expected to be directly involved in 40 goals, at a conservative rate.
Perhaps the most telling predictor is his record against English sides – comprising, within the context of the Champions League, the clubs that casual observers would consider the top six.
Even before scoring doubles against Manchester United and Liverpool in last season’s knockout stages, he had 22 goals and six assists in 30 appearances. The rest of the division cannot be relied upon to provide better resistance.
Who would make the most of Messi?
The danger in making these estimates is the number of variables relating to and beyond the goals and killer passes.
Criticism of Messi this season, particularly during some of his side’s more turgid performances from November onwards, has centred on his ponderous passages between the electrifying moments.
Frequently dispossessed and occasionally appearing to lack a clarity of passing vision, the obvious assumption is that his slacker moments would be largely eradicated under the guidance of City manager Guardiola, who Messi regards as his most influential coach from their time together at Camp Nou.Also on rt.com Guardiola speaks for first time on reports Man City could swoop for Messi amid Barca unrest
Guardiola, you can presume and predict, would be best placed to bring the best out of him, restoring their deep understanding and combining the striker with the likes of the relentlessly creative Kevin de Bruyne.
Of the other Premier League clubs who could conceivably tempt Messi, Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool would undoubtedly nurture and intelligently integrate the striker’s genius, all-but ensuring continued dominance for the soon-to-be champions in the same way that City would expect to be comfortable title favourites with him in their squad.
Having suffered considerable ridicule for missing out on Erling Haaland, Manchester United will want to at least compete for the player who tormented them and as they went out of Europe last season, although their league status as also-rans – driven, ominously, by an apparent capacity to derive distinctly average form from world-class players – reduces their pulling power.
Then there is the unknowable of just how much the world’s most prolific player might be able to drag up United or any of City and Liverpool’s rivals in the top six.
It’s not too fanciful to suggest that he would have helped United to beat Liverpool at Old Trafford this season, rather than earning a draw, but it’s harder to imagine him single-handedly saving them from comprehensive, drab defeats against a succession of midtable sides.
Messi’s magic, as this season has shown, is no catch-all for a team’s inconsistencies, and the prospect of him trudging ruefully across the turf at English stadia could become as vivid as it was at San Memes on Tuesday.
The brand power of a Galactico
United, undeniably, have one calling card that City still lack. Behind Madrid and Barcelona, they have the largest global revenue of any football club, accruing more than $110 million more than City, who themselves are more than $62 million ahead of Liverpool.
City would hope that making the greatest Galactico signing possible right now would propel their stature to the kind of heights they had aimed for when Guardiola was appointed, and strengthen their chances of keeping Pep when his contract ends at the end of next season.
Marketing deals and brand power seem to have accelerated City's willingness to go all out and pay Messi’s current $73 million salary. That's a reflection of the cult of the individual in an age when Messi has 142 million Instagram followers (City have 17 million, and Barcelona and Madrid have 83 million each).
They'll break the bank if neccessary, irrespective of the Financial Fair Play regulations they have been investigated for allegedly breaching.
Those rules could be dropped entirely if City made such a move. As irresistible as the idea of Messi in England is, the authorities might have to accept a game irrevocably changed on and off the pitch.