With a little under four months left on his Barcelona contract — one whose mysterious “leak” rocked the world a few weeks ago — Lionel Messi’s potential departure remains a topic of much mystery. Cúles will be hoping that successful performances like last week’s improbable comeback against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey, and the determination shown against PSG will do wonders to keep the Argentine at the Camp Nou.
Due to financial and sporting reasons, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain — other than Barcelona, of course — have emerged as Messi’s most viable destinations. Naturally, both clubs come with their own set of pros and cons. Join us as Barça Universal explores Messi’s potential landing spots.
Written by Jan-Michael Marshall
Pro: Reunited with Pep Guardiola
One of the most intriguing aspects of Messi joining Manchester City would be his reunion with Pep Guardiola. The legendary manager extended his contract in November and it now runs until 2023.
Together in Barcelona from 2008 to 2012, the two reached unimaginable heights, notably winning two Champions Leagues, three La Ligas, and the “Sextuple” in 2009. Guardiola helped “unlock” Messi by playing him as a false nine, the position that allowed him to roam and wreck havoc. The Argentine was the linchpin to his manager’s tactics, scoring 212 goals in those four seasons.
In his 34-year old season, Guardiola could surely find the perfect role for Messi.
Interestingly, Guardiola has not won the Champions League since leaving Barcelona, is Messi the x-factor he’s missing?
Pro: A Promising Project
Other than boasting a world-beating current squad, Man City are also extremely well-equipped for the future, with rising stars like Phil Foden, Ferran Torres, and the indomitable Rúben Dias. Furthermore, most of their core pieces are still in-or-entering the prime of their careers. Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Rodri, Aymeric Laporte, João Cancelo, and Gabriel Jesus are all under 27 years old. Midfield-orchestrator Kevin de Bruyne is still only 29 and certainly has a few more years left under his belt at a world-class level.
If Messi were to join City, he would be safe in the knowledge of the team’s present and future.
Pro: Reliable and Proven Management
Between Pep Guardiola, Txixi Bergistan, and the never-ending funds of the Abu Dhabi United Group-backed City Football Group, Man City are one of the most well-run clubs in the world. They routinely spend big money on transfers –hitting the mark more often than not– providing Guardiola with whatever pieces he needs to excel.
City’s institutional management would be a breath of fresh air for Messi, although the upcoming elections could instill much-needed stability for the Catalans.
Con: Intense Pressing and Defensive Workrate
Like most Guardiola sides, City press with intensity and width. His players are taught to win the ball back as soon as they lose it and to suffocate their opponents when building out of the back. Naturally, this would take a lot of energy from the Argentine, who has been known to ease up on his pressing in the last couple of seasons in order to reserve energy on offence. The Premier League is notoriously faster-paced than La Liga, so that could take a toll on him as well.
Pro: Trophies Galore
Every athlete wants to win, and Messi is no different. One thing Man City would offer above almost any other team in the world is the chance to win countless trophies. If the six-time Ballon d’Or winner was to join the Citizens, they would undoubtedly be favorites in all of their competitions. Whether the Premier League, FA Cup, or much-coveted Champions League, City boast the squad strength and depth to compete in all these competitions.
With so many of the so-called “top six” sides in England are struggling at the moment; Liverpool have underwhelmed and their squad thinness is showing; Manchester United, Tottenham, and Chelsea are still inconsistent; and Arsenal are muddled in a rebuild; the time is ripe for Man City to dominate for years to come.
The Sky Blues have confidently risen to the top of the Premier League this season, winning ten in a row and are undefeated in their last 21 games in all competitions. Adding Messi to the equation would only help them ever more.
Pro: Connection with Sergio Agüero
Messi’s friendship with compatriot Sergio Agüero is well documented, with the latter even being rumoured to be brought to Barcelona in the summer in the hopes of enticing Messi to stay. Agüero’s contract expires in the summer but it’s entirely possible that the Citizens extend him if Messi arrives. Either way, expect the pair to be united one way or another.
The two have a great friendship and he could help Messi integrate into a new club, new city and new country.
Pro: The legacy of the False 9 continues
As briefly touched upon, Pep would find the perfect role for Messi to integrate into a squad full of creative players. This would most likely be the continuation of the “false 9”, a role that sees Messi starting in the centre forward position but being granted the license to freely roam the pitch.
Given Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus’ constant injuries, Guardiola has played with a false 9 in countless games this season. Wide players like Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, and Riyad Mahrez have all played their part in that position, and City’s results haven’t slipped one bit. Often, Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden, too, have given their all in the same role.
Nonetheless, while injuries have prompted Guardiola to revert to this system, he has always preferred a centre forward with all the skills of a midfielder– expert passing and vision. This gives Messi the perfect role, and the squad could use someone who is more naturally fit for that position.
Con: New League, New Country, New Language
Perhaps the only downside of Messi leaving Barcelona for Man City would be having to adapt to new surroundings. Besides the occasional “one-club player,” most footballers move from city to city or country to country. With that come the timeless problems of relocation that can take a while to dissipate. Messi has lived in Barcelona for almost twenty years and moving to a new league and new country at this point of his career would be a dramatic change of scenery.
Although he reportedly does not speak English, having friends like Agüero would help him get accustomed to life in England. On the other hand, football is a universal language.
Messi would also have to adjust to a completely new league and style of play at 34-years old. Detractors badger whether he can “do it on a cold rainy night in Stoke”, but if anyone can, it’s him.
Written by Udhav Arora
Pro: Would you look at that frontline
Right off the bat, the biggest headliner at PSG which Messi, and with it, others, would enjoy is their incredible, and frankly unfair attacking lineup. With Neymar Jr already, unofficially committing his future to the Parisians, they could possibly host the incredible duo again together. And with them, the next big thing in world football — Kylian Mbappe.
An attacking trident of Neymar-Mbappe-Messi is the stuff of dreams. The three complement each other almost perfectly, with Mbappe’s relentless off the ball running suiting Neymar and Messi’s playmaking abilities. In turn, we have seen the South American duo walk past the heftiest of defences with slick moves of their own. It seems unlikely that Messi will look past Neymar when choosing his next destination.
PSG might have to offload Mbappe soon, but not without giving the world at least one season of the trio sticking together. Imagine the TV revenue. Not to mention, the likes of Mauro Icardi, Angel di Maria, and Pablo Sarabia on the sidelines. Goals galore.
Con: The possibility of complacency
For several years we have seen PSG dominate domestic competitions with the utmost ease, steamrolling over all their opponents in the league. However, they have failed to replicate the same at the highest level, especially in the Champions League.
Barring reaching the final last season, the capital outfit boast of a far from an ideal record in the UCL. Often, they struggle to keep hold of leads, crumbling mentally against any and all opponents. Barcelona were able to put six past them despite a 4-0 first-leg loss, and something similar was mirrored by Manchester United soon after. We could see signs of the same last night, too, as Barça’s stream of attacks nearly rattled Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
While an assumption, it can be squared down to complacency that eventually sets in even with a team full of seasoned professionals. Lionel Messi, while arguably more competitive, might face a similar issue in Paris, and the lack of equally matched opponents — with all due respect to the league — might not bring the best in Leo.
Pro: The guarantee of trophies
Well, one might argue that despite that complacency, it guarantees you trophies almost on a seasonal basis. Even when PSG look disappointing in the UCL, they manage to tip over all competition in the league, and with Lionel Messi in their ranks, not much will change.
This season as well, despite enduring their worst season since the 2016/17 campaign, PSG sit no more than two points adrift of Lille in second place. A single matchday is all it takes to change the course of a season like this and predicting Paris to eventually lift the league trophy is not far-fetched.
Pro: No lack of friends
The reunion with Neymar is bound to influence Messi in terms of off the pitch chemistry. The two have never shied away from talking about their friendship, with the Brazilian publicly stating that his biggest desire is to play alongside Messi again.
While Manchester City have Sergio Aguero in their strides, PSG host a plethora of Argentines in their team. It starts off with their new head coach, Mauricio Pochettino. The opportunity of being coached by someone from his own country might help further bridge any gaps. The duo embraced each other in a hug yesterday as well, as Messi walked off the Parc des Princes pitch.
Furthermore, it extends to the likes of Angel di Maria and Leandro Parades. The former has played with Messi from a young age, and holds him in very high respect, hailing him as the GOAT. The latter showed incredible chemistry with Leo on the pitch in the latest edition of the Copa America as Argentina bowed out in the semi-finals.
The language barrier will be much less apparent here, with a team full of internationals who have played across the continent.
Con: On the wrong of physical competition
The debate that Messi will not be able to survive in the Premier League has been in existence for years, now. However, for a player who has continually represented Argentina in South American competitions against the ruthless of players, the PL does not serve a foreign concept to him.
Ligue 1, though, provides a different spectrum of physicality for players. One Neymar has found himself at the end of, during his tenure with the club.
The French league hosts a truly insane number of fouls, averaging the highest number across the top five leagues. Their 7,381 fouls in 2020/21 edge past 7,064 of Liga and the number is well clear of Premier League’s 6,102. While it is largely reflective of the kind of refereeing visible in the league, a simple eye-test confirms the kind of ruthless tackles seen on a weekly basis in the competition.
It is further confirmed by the sheer number of red cards handed out. This season alone, Ligue 1 has seen 71 red cards across across 28 matchdays, averaging at least 2.5 reds per matchday. The tally of 71 just moves past 70 reds given last season in the league when it came to a halt after 28 gameweeks.
For context, the Premier League has been witness to just 33 red cards so far, while the same category ounces up to 48 for La Liga. With the introduction of VAR, the decisions surrounding red cards has been pretty much consistent across the top five leagues, and the sheer thought of 2.5 evictions per matchday raises several eyebrows.
Pro: A team that directly complements Leo
Manchester City are an absolute unit of a team with each player contributing to their high-pressing system. There, Leo might end up as the only peg who does not defend from the top, which can prove to be a dent in their system.
At PSG, however, things are much easier. Pochettino does love an intense press, as we saw during his Tottenham Hotspur tenure, but the capital outfit hosts a large number of hard-working players in the team who make the frontline’s job much easier.
Marco Verratto, Leandro Paredes, and Idrissa Gana Gueye work tirelessly to win back the ball in the centre of the park, while the fullback are very enthusiastic off the ball. No to forget Danilo Pereira, Julian Draxler, and Ander Herrera — all three of whom are defensively very competent and contribute to all spheres of PSG’s game.
All this makes Messi’s job much easier, saving him a ton of energy. He can, in turn, ply his trade where it is needed the most — in the attack. The lack of a creative midfielder in the unit is made up by the presence of Neymar and Angel di Maria, but imagine the addition of Leo Messi in the team.
Messi will end the season with no shortage of options, and each offer a unique set of positives and negatives. Guardiola and Messi reuniting would be fascinating to watch as would a potential trio of Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe. Then again, so would staying at a Barcelona side that seems to be finding their footing.
Cúles would love nothing more than to see the Argentine ride off into the sunset with the Blaugrana, even Pep Guardiola admitted as much in an interview late last year, but more than that, he deserves to feel free to make the decision that feels best for him and his family.
Wherever he ends up, one thing is for certain: success will follow.