For as talented as a soccer player he’s become and for as lofty of the global icon status he has deservedly earned, the notion that Lionel Messi could dominate club football at its highest levels in Europe — in Spain’s La Liga and UEFA Champions League — but be unable to duplicate his out-of-this-world talents on a cold, rainy night in England against players looking to kick him every chance they could get was always utter nonsense.
Yes, of course Messi could still be Messi playing at Stoke City (no longer in the Premier League, by the way). He might not be able to weave through an entire team and score another wondrous goal like the late great Diego Maradona, but he could enter any Premier League game and, without question, still stand as the best player on the pitch.
And now, Messi can finally make the move that he needs to make.
On Thursday, Barcelona announced that Messi will be leaving the club that has been home to him since age 13. The cash-strapped Spanish power has struggled to upgrade its squad in recent years and continue capitalizing on the remaining years of Messi’s prime, and now, regrettably for Barca fans, the club says it’s unable to agree to another contract due to financial “obstacles.”
Messi has made overtures about leaving before, and each time, Barcelona appeased him with a new deal that presented him additional millions of reasons to remain with the Blaugrana. And if you thought Aaron Rodgers’ feud with the Green Bay Packers’ front office was bad, that’s nothing compared to Messi’s rocky relationship with Barcelona leadership, namely former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, whom Messi called a liar. Perhaps this is yet another stalemate in negotiations. But this time, it feels like the actual end of an era.
It’s long been time for superstar and club to part ways. Leaving all of that drama and bitterness behind is the best thing Messi could do for himself. It’s no doubt been a summer of reflection for the 34-year-old after finally winning a major tournament for his native Argentina in the Copa America. The burden of having never won a trophy for his country has been lifted, and he has nothing left to prove for his national team (although his critics will still point out that he hasn’t matched Maradona by winning the World Cup). Messi also has nothing left to prove at Barcelona. The only challenge left is to go to England and play in the Premier League.
No, make that dominate the Premier League. And there’s only one club who can give him the opportunity to achieve that level of success — Manchester City.
The rumor mill has linked Messi with Man City (as well as Chelsea) in the past. Right when it seemed like a move could actually happen, Messi and Barcelona would reach an agreement to put all of that transfer talk to bed. The power structure at Man City that seemingly appealed to Messi remains in place. Txiki Begiristain, the Barcelona club director who presided over Messi’s rise to the senior team, is City’s director of football, and Pep Guardiola, Messi’s ex-Barca manager, is still in charge of the team. He’s the biggest reason why Messi should join Man City.
Guardiola and Messi won extensively at Barcelona. Together, they won 14 out of a possible 19 trophies, including the 2009 treble with Copa del Rey, La Liga and Champions League titles. And City is once again stocking its squad with more top-tier talent, making the defending Premier League champions all the more appealing. Messi, who did what he could last season with a diminished Barcelona roster, wouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting with Man City.
Paris Saint-Germain of France’s Ligue 1 has its own deep pockets and star power (including ex-Barcelona teammate Neymar) to entice Messi. But Guardiola already knows how to bring out the best in Messi. And he’s figured out how to dominate the Premier League. What he hasn’t figured out is how to lead Man City to Champions League glory. Not even the signings of English stars Harry Kane and Jack Grealish can ensure that. Bringing Messi to Manchester to pick apart defenses with Kevin De Bruyne is Guardiola’s best bet.
The best soccer players on the planet aspire to test themselves in the Premier League. Messi has every right to feel like he has nothing left to accomplish, and if he chooses not to play in England, that would be perfectly fine. His reputation and legacy would remain intact. But the sight of Messi performing his wizardry in the world’s most popular (and arguably its best) soccer league would be entertaining. And maybe, just maybe, Man City would be fortunate enough to gain the domestic cup tournament draw we’d like to see — Messi and City, away to Stoke City.