Could Kevin De Bruyne and Lionel Messi could be Pep Guardiola’s new Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi?
Marca cites several English papers but you didn’t need a report to know these dots would be connected after both Barcelona and Man City were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League in different degrees of hair-pulling fashion this week.
You can also include as sources anyone who likes to debate the obvious given Josep Maria Bartomeu’s absolute mess at Barcelona and Guardiola’s connection with Messi.
[ MORE: Three things from Man City’s UCL exit ]
Barca’s 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich laid bare the club’s aging and under-performing unit (PST’s Andy Edwards pretty much nailed the post-mortem). And glaring misses from a number of City’s attackers versus Lyon on Saturday bordered on comedy. Okay, they didn’t border there. They built a house.
Speaking of houses, Messi decorated a dump this season and papered over myriad proverbial cracks. As Barca rebuilds and Man City looks to get “over the hump,” is this a perfect match? With Eric Garcia already eyeing Barca, could a wild package of swap options and money get it done?
Why does Man City go for Messi?
The “Should he?” leave is one question but there’s an intriguing argument to be made for the Argentine coming to City, KDB moving into a more central role to allow Messi to take the Belgian’s free-range privileges.
Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus led the Premier League in expected goals per 90 minutes, with Aguero edging his young Brazilian teammate to the tune of .96 to .94. Aguero scored 16 times to his 15.5 xG, while Jesus should’ve had an eye-popping 21 goals compared to his execution of 14.
Messi has a release clause of more than $700 million, enough to make any club sweat Financial Fair Play let alone bankruptcy. Players would have to go in the other direction and Jesus would probably headline the list.
Messi is the best player in the world and some would say the best to ever do it.
The 33-year-old is coming off a historic season that saw him break La Liga’s single-season assist record while scoring 31 times with 26 assists in 44 matches across all competitions despite missing the first month of the season with a foot injury. He is one of only nine players to collect double-digit goals and assists in a top five European league this season.
It also wouldn’t hurt to keep Guardiola happy, even if some City fans seem to think Max Allegri’s going to magically produce something better than the best offensive seasons in Premier League history.
Why would Messi go to Man City?
First off, let’s address the obvious: It would be really hard for Messi to finally do it on a cold night at Stoke unless there’s a solid League Cup or FA Cup draw. Sad.
Frankly, Messi needs a club which nurtures the final years of his prime rather than bids to prematurely run it into the ground.
Barca’s terrible team construction meant Messi at 33 played 90 minutes in all 11 league matches after the club returned from the coronavirus pause. He did not sub out of a league match since the calendar hit October. Too many times, Messi was the lone bright light for Barca, like in the Spanish Super Cup versus Atletico Madrid.
There would not be that problem at Man City.
Messi’s recently been operating in a 4-3-3 and Guardiola used that formation a ton this year. Even going back to the historic 2017-18 season at the Etihad, Guardiola loved running his attack through Leroy Sane on the left wing.
Messi could do the same on the right side while occasionally slotting in for the equally-aging Aguero up top. Raheem Sterling stays on the left side (though he could be sold or swapped to fund the Messi move) while Riyad Mahrez gets a heftier dose of responsibilities after an incredible 2019-20. Honestly, maybe David Silva decides to stay.
And how about young Ferran Torres learning under Messi? Swoon.
Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne would run the midfield atop Rodri, who will enjoy life a lot more with Nathan Ake next to Aymeric Laporte and — theoretically — a functioning left back opposite Kyle Walker.
Messi would still thrive in Guardiola’s system even with his top-end speed on the decline. Imagine (assuming Jesus and either Sterling or Bernardo Silva sold):
Walker — Laporte — Ake — (left back)
Rodri — Fernandinho
Messi — Aguero — Sterling
What other clubs could suit Messi and Barcelona?
The answer is less than a handful of clubs can afford Messi’s wages and Barca’s demands. Also, Messi’s willingness to go to a club and passion about leaving Barca is far and away the biggest variable.
A player concerned about his legacy, though Messi need not be, might not want to go to Paris Saint-Germain and the Parisian set may not have the outlay after they burdened themselves with the Neymar purchase. Messi likely wouldn’t want to go to a club without Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, one of whom would likely have to go, and the allure of PSG could be dead in 2 weeks if they win their long-sought Champions League.
Juventus won’t be buying him with Cristiano Ronaldo around and Bayern is well-stocked without the big money. The arguments against MLS, Qatar Stars League, and Chinese Super League Club goes back to the legacy point above.
Which brings us to the other Premier League giants. Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester United have the weaponry in terms of finances and swap assets. The Reds could make the best argument of the bunch, and if Bartomeu stays he’d totally make the wrong move by accepting Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane at just a few years junior to Messi.
Then again, this same rationale could see Bartomeu’s Barca accept a package including John Stones and Eric Garcia, who already wants to go back to Spain.
How can Barcelona nip this in the bud?
Short of playing on Messi’s loyalty, Barcelona has to do so many things to keep its club attractive to the Argentine, who has eyes and will see a Real Madrid stocked with young talent and prepared to be a title favorite for years.
Messi probably isn’t terribly worried about how Barcelona hires to be his next manager, given that the failures of Quique Setien and Ernesto Valverde both hinge on the inferior talent around him. So it’s about finding some value for players like Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, and Samuel Umtiti while recruiting a top-end playmaking midfielder and steadier presences at the back.
Head over to WhoScored and check out Barca’s five-best performers this season (ages in parentheses): Messi (33), Suarez (33), Busquets (32), Pique (33), Greizmann (29). Barca has started to address this with the purchases of wingers Pedri and Trincao, but better recruitment would’ve had young Carles Alena, Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig, and Oriol Busquets developing in better positions.
Zinedine Zidane was able to do this at Real with Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, and Fede Valverde amongst others and — thanks largely to Barca — Madrid has a league title during a year with major teething pains.
The idea of Messi being a one-club player is admirable but if Bartomeu stays without major changes to his philosophy, which has destroyed what was built over such a long time with La Masia academy, the club doesn’t deserve to keep hold of a jewel like Messi.
And frankly, a sale might be the fastest way for Barca to restock the cupboard (even if Miralem Pjanic was purchased almost exclusively to bridge young Frenkie de Jong to Messi).
So… more Pep-Messi hugs or nah?