Lionel Messi’s new dream teams? Manchester City, PSG and Inter Milan are the three clubs most likely to sign wantaway Barcelona superstar, but in which XI would he be the best fit?
- Lionel Messi has announced his intention to leave Barcelona this summer
- Messi has been with Barcelona for almost 20 years but now wants to move on
- Manchester City remain the most likely to sign the 33-year-old superstar
- Paris Saint-Germain surely could afford him while Inter Milan are also interested
Lionel Messi had been expected to see out the rest of his European career with Barcelona before leaving to join Newell’s Old Boys – the side in Argentina he left as a 13-year-old in 2000.
But Messi’s desire and intention to leave Barcelona this summer has blown that idea out of the water.
The question now is when and where he will go next. The options appear limited due to the sheer cost of signing a player of Messi’s quality.
Lionel Messi has announced his intention to leave Barcelona after almost 20 years
Three clubs can at least be considered as contenders. Manchester City, Inter Milan and, despite a few noises to the contrary, Paris Saint-Germain are all in contention for Messi’s signature – but which team would be the best fit for him?
Suitability rating: 8/10
The now overwhelming favourites to sign Messi with the bookmakers, City are the obvious fit due to the prospects of a reunion with Pep Guardiola and a chance for Messi to showcase his incredible talent in the Premier League alongside good friend and Argentina team-mate Sergio Aguero.
Messi’s most successful period at Barcelona came while Guardiola was in charge. Fourteen of the 33 trophies Messi has won at Barcelona were masterminded by Guardiola from 2008 to 2012.
And it’s not as if City haven’t shown interest in wanting to sign Messi before. It’s just that more recently they’ve felt – as have others – that Messi has no real desire to leave Barcelona. Indeed, Aguero himself tried to convince Messi in 2016 to join City. He even joked that Manchester – despite not being close to a beach – would be the ideal destination for him.
Messi enjoyed his most successful spell at Barcelona while playing for Pep Guardiola
Guardiola, when asked in February this year about the prospect of Messi leaving Barcelona, said: ‘I think he will end his career there.’
Clearly that now won’t happen. City are perhaps in the best financial position to make a deal work.
The one sticking point could be if Barcelona don’t allow Messi to leave the club for free and therefore demand a huge transfer fee, which City would aim to avoid given concerns over financial fair play.
Should City get him on a free transfer the financial cost of signing Messi obviously wouldn’t be small.
At Barcelona, Messi’s fixed salary totals £64m (€71m) but bonuses for signing, for staying, and for winning trophies takes the figure well above that. Just by playing 60 per cent of games until the 2021 date when his contract ends sees Messi earn on average £95m (€106m) a season. But the potential – if he were to win the treble and win FIFA’s player of the year award – exists to push the final figure over the £110m (€122m) mark.
That is a huge sum of money and no doubt Messi will want a similar deal to reflect his status as an elite, world-leading star.
There is also the question of where he would fit into the team. Indeed, the world’s best player would get into any side, granted, but just how much would Guardiola need to change the shape and style of City to fit Messi in?
In the first-choice line-up, Messi would surely be deployed on either the left or right side in a three-pronged attack with Raheem Sterling on the other one of the flanks with Aguero in the central striker position.
Messi’s best friend Sergio Aguero could also be a key factor in City’s move for the 33-year-old
It would be a quite devastating front three and one of the most feared in world football.
But there are other options too. Guardiola dumped Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Barca because he wanted Messi as his ‘false nine’, so the Argentine could also spearhead the attack in place of Aguero or Gabriel Jesus – as Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne have done too in the recent past – with the likes of Bernardo Silva or Riyad Mahrez brought in to play on one of the wings.
One thing is for sure – the prospect of Messi and De Bruyne, the Premier League’s most outstanding creative talent, in the same team is the stuff dreams are made of.
Commercially, an area City are always looking to grow, signing Messi would make an awful lot of sense.
In terms of reputation City still rank below Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United. Signing Messi would boost their standing exponentially off the pitch.
So, a move for Messi ticks all of the boxes for City. The only two sticking points appear to be whether Barcelona will allow the player to leave on a free and if City are able to alter their wage structure accordingly to accommodate such a mammoth move.
Potential City XI including Messi: (4-3-3) Ederson; Walker, Laporte, Ake, Mendy; Rodri, Foden, De Bruyne; Messi, Aguero, Sterling
Suitability rating: 7/10
Despite recent noises to the contrary, PSG are perhaps the only side other than City who could afford Messi. The French champions, like City, have to tread carefully due to Financial Fair Play but you suspect that, because they are effectively owned by the Qatari state, they would somehow find a way should Messi be keen.
PSG remain desperate to win their first Champions League after agonisingly missing out in their first final against Bayern Munich last Sunday, and Messi could be the final piece in the jigsaw.
PSG have used their financial firepower to lure key names to Paris over recent years. Indeed, their current front three were all bought at a premium from rival European clubs: Neymar (Barcelona, £198million), Kylian Mbappe (Monaco, £160m) and Angel Di Maria (Manchester United, £44m). It is the most expensively assembled attack in football history.
Completing the signing of Messi would mean the mouthwatering prospect of him once again playing alongside Neymar, and the most exciting young forward in the world, Mbappe.
The lure of linking up again with Neymar could tempt Messi to move to Paris Saint-Germain
A reunion with Neymar is something Messi has craved since the Brazilian left Barcelona for PSG in 2017.
It is no secret that Messi would have preferred Barcelona re-signing Neymar instead of Antoine Griezmann, who arrived at Nou Camp last year from Atletico Madrid.
A chance to join up with his old pal from Brazil once more would no doubt excite Messi, as would the chance of helping PSG to their first European Cup.
Should Messi end up in Paris then Di Maria would be the player you’d expect to drop out of the starting XI.
But there’s also the small matter of Mauro Icardi, only recently signed from Inter Milan for £54m and a big hit in his first season in Paris.
Messi moving to PSG would, however, mean Argentina team-mate Angel Di Maria dropping out
Messi, Neymar and Mbappe are all capable of playing in any one of the three attacking roles for PSG.
It would be the most potent attacking force in Europe by a long way. Last season all three combined scored 80 goals and provided 57 assists in 108 games – a frightening return.
If FFP really is a problem, as has been reported in France, then it might mean PSG selling either Mbappe, which is unlikely, or Neymar, perhaps back to Barcelona, to finance any deal for Messi. That could be quite a conundrum for the PSG hierarchy.
And as crazy as it may sound, a move for Messi isn’t a priority for PSG. Thomas Tuchel wants to strengthen his defence with the imminent departure of Thiago Silva.
Tuchel has spoken on record before about Messi, yet like Guardiola had expected him to see out his career at Barcelona. Although Tuchel also echoed the thoughts of every coach in the world when he added: ‘Which coach says no to Messi?’
Potential PSG XI including Messi: (4-3-3): Navas; Kehrer, Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Bernat; Gueye, Verratti, Paredes; Messi, Neymar, Mbappe
Suitability rating 5/10
Of all the sides linked with Messi, Inter Milan appear the least likely to get him. There is no doubt that Inter are on the up. A strong Europa League campaign was evidence of that and under Antonio Conte they appear much more organised than they have in years.
They haven’t won a trophy since 2011 – and that was the Coppa Italia – so in terms of giving Messi a challenge he has never had before then Inter would provide that.
Much has also been made of Messi’s rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo being rekindled in Italy. While that wouldn’t be the most interesting aspect of Messi moving to the San Siro, it would give football fans more reason to watch Serie A.
An unlikely move to Inter Milan would see Messi play alongside Alexis Sanchez (right) again
Financing a deal would be a major problem for Inter who are stretched as it is with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez on their books.
There is also a doubt over how Messi would fit into Inter’s side. Conte has predominantly played with a 3-5-2 formation since taking over last year, just like he did at Chelsea. He prefers to use wing-backs (Victor Moses and Ashley Young) and two centre-forwards (Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez). Messi has always been more productive in a three-man attack. That would mean a shift from the 3-5-2 to something such as a 4-3-3.
Martinez, despite being an international team-mate of Messi’s, would be the obvious player to miss out – and like Neymar he is a long-term Barca target, so could he be used as a makeweight in a Messi deal? Lukaku is able to provide Inter’s attack with more options from a central position than Martinez, so Messi and Sanchez – former team-mates (with limited success together) at Barcelona – would then occupy the vacant right and left attacking positions.
A defensive reshuffle would then surely be needed as there would be concerns over Moses and Young occupying full-back positions given the stage both are at in their careers. They are given much more protection playing with three central defenders than they would be either side of a two-man central defence. That, along with the cost of signing Messi, wouldn’t be cheap and is another reason why Inter probably isn’t a realistic option.
Potential Inter XI including Messi: (4-3-3): Handanovic; Moses, Godin, De Vrij, Young; Barella, Eriksen, Brozovic; Messi, Lukaku, Sanchez
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