For the first time in forever, it appears remotely possible that Lionel Messi might leave Barcelona FC.
In football, the word “crisis” gets thrown around quite a bit (Arsene Wenger seems to endure one or two every season), but in Barcelona’s case, the media has been completely justified in bandying that dreaded word.
Barcelona are in a right mess at the moment. On the pitch, they are under-performing and it seems only a matter of time before manager Luis Enrique gets the sack. Real Madrid are now the team to beat, and that just won’t do for the Barca faithful.
Off the pitch, the situation is even bleaker. FIFA have banned them from signing players until January 2016. Club legend and sporting director Andoni Zubizzareta was sacked, and that apparently prompted another club legend, Carles Puyol to resign as well. Go back a little further, and you have Sandro Rosell, club president during some of Barcelona’s most successful years ever, resigning in 2014 over Neymar’s allegedly dodgy transfer. It’s been a tough couple of years.
Now you can add an unhappy Messi to that list of problems. Enrique benched the player for the 1-0 loss to David Moyes’ Real Sociedad, and the very next day, Messi skipped an open training session (an annual club tradition) because of a stomach bug. Over 11,000 fans — mostly children — were scheduled to be at that session.
If the reason for his absence was true, then the timing would be incredibly unfortunate. According to The Independent, just a few days before, his teammate Xavi told a Barcelona TV journalist: “In football, a ‘stomach bug’ is seen as an excuse. [A player] might feel bad at first but you take a tablet then go out to play.”
Clearly, Messi is unhappy. And considering the strong hints he dropped less than six months ago about possibly leaving Barcelona, that is not a good sign.
Chances are, Messi is simply throwing a professional footballer’s version of a tantrum. Chances are, the club will kowtow to him and give him what he wants — whether it’s the sacking of Enrique, or some humility over past grievances (such as the perceived lack of support over his and his father’s tax fraud case). Chances are, he will retire at Barcelona, the city where he is adored.
But let’s just say — hypothetically — that he is ready to move on. It’s been a turbulent few years. He can’t see himself regaining his title as football’s undisputed greatest player with Barcelona now. He’s had one too many run-ins with the higher-ups at Barcelona. He wants to rediscover his love for the game.
Where would he go?
According to a report just released by the CIES Football Observatory, Messi is the most valuable footballer on the planet, and it would cost £172million to sign him. Ronaldo, in comparison, would cost £104m.
Only a handful of clubs can afford that kind of money — Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid, maybe Monaco, and — you guessed it — Manchester United.
The rumour mill has always churned out Chelsea and Manchester City as his most likely destinations, but if you think about it, Manchester United would actually make more sense.
Here’s five reasons why:
1. Financial Fair Play.
Both Manchester City and Chelsea have to be wary of breaching FFP rules (City much more than Chelsea). Manchester United, on the other hand, don’t have such problems.
Plus, City are already making a big(-ish) move — £30m for Wilfried Bony. Even then, they are said to be selling players like Matija Nastasic and Scott Sinclair to avoid further FFP-related sanctions.
City were hit with a suspended £49m fine last season, and were given a net spending limit of £49m in this transfer window and the one in the summer. They’d have to sell really big (like Sergio Aguero big) to be in the clear if they moved for Messi.
As for Chelsea, their FFP problems aren’t anywhere as serious as City, given that the club announced a record profit of £18.4mil last year, helped no doubt by the sale of Juan Mata, David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku. However, they probably still have to sell a few players to make any move for Messi.
In any case, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has publicly rejected any notion of a move for Messi. And why shouldn’t he? His team are now a irresistible, well-drilled attacking machine, while Messi has become a bit of a diva over the past couple of seasons (more on that below). Mourinho really doesn’t need that right now.
2. PSG and Monaco? Probably not.
We’re talking about a player who has been touted as the greatest of all time. I’m not sure he’d want to finish his career at — no offense — one of Europe’s lesser leagues.
And of course, both clubs have FFP hanging over their heads as well. Seems highly unlikely.
3. Real Madrid? Definitely not.
If you thought the reaction to Luis Figo’s move from Barcelona to Madrid was bad, can you imagine what they’d do if Messi made the same switch? No way. Absolutely not.
4. Ed Woodward has a point to prove.
This is the Manchester United executive vice-chairman who in 2013 very publicly left a pre-season tour in Australia, ostensibly to land the transfer of Cesc Fabregas.
That obviously didn’t work out. Neither did any of his ambitious transfer targets that summer, which according to rumours, included mega-bids for Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.
In the end, he had to settle for the (relatively) cheap, pragmatic and altogether less glamourous signing David Moyes had wanted all summer — Marouane Fellaini. Problem was, the cut-price option written into Fellaini’s contract had already expired.
Nobody could understand why it happened. Moyes, who had managed Fellaini just a couple of months before, would surely had known about his contract situation — and the media never stopped reminding everyone either.
Perhaps it was arrogance on Woodward’s part. He didn’t fancy the big Belgian. He wanted a real marquee signing (which he clearly thought he could deliver), so he delayed the decision. And on top of that, he probably felt that “hey, we’re Manchester United. We can afford the extra few million quid.”
This is, after all, the guy who said at the start of the 2014/15 season:
It is in our capabilities to spend £60m, £70m, £80m on a player – and we would not be afraid to do that. There is no budget. We are in a very strong financial position. We can make big signings. — Ed Woodward
I mean, why would he say that?? Could you imagine Alex Ferguson and David Gill saying that, in that manner? On the contrary, Ferguson often extolled the virtue of developing young players, while simply maintaining that United were financially “competitive”.
In 2013, Ferguson said:
We’re competitive in the market. We’re not Chelsea or Manchester City in terms of money, but we’re competitive.
You have to look at the structure of the club at present, in terms of the number of first-team players we have at 23 or under. — Alex Ferguson
Notice the difference?
Woodward is a little too desperate to make his mark. He might find the chance to sign Lionel Messi on a world-record transfer a little too hard to resist.
And did you also notice how quickly he pounced when Real Madrid had to offload Angel Di Maria to accommodate Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez? Or when Juan Mata was deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea?
5. Little Argentina in Manchester
There are quite a few Argentine players living in Manchester right now — Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis and Willy Caballero at City; and Di Maria and Marcos Rojo at United. With the exception of Caballero, all of them are also international teammates of Messi.
Now Messi is quite the awkward kid. I spent a day with him a few years ago in Barcelona for a commercial shoot, and I remember his people doing all his talking, while he just sat quietly on his own. His older brother drove him to the shoot — bodyguards in tow — and stayed with him the whole time. He might as well have been holding his hand.
Messi has never known a normal life. He has been managed, nurtured and coddled since he was a child; living in a city where he has only experienced constant, undivided adoration.
Moving to a completely new and foreign environment will be tough for him, which is why Manchester, with all his international colleagues there, seems a logical destination — if he really does decide to leave the extreme comforts he has at Barcelona.
And as mention earlier, City might well be out of the question, which leaves just one other club in Manchester… And we don’t mean Salford City.
Would it be a good move for Manchester United?
I highly doubt it. United would be investing a huge amount in a player who at 27 will have little resale value.
Of course, any team would be better with Lionel Messi on its side. But would that difference be worth £172m, considering the baggage Messi now carries with him?
His tantrums against the Barcelona management, while perhaps justified, have not reflected well on him. United are already a side in transition, trying desperately to cling on to its identity and traditions. The last thing they want is to be held ransom by the demands of a footballer used to getting his way.
Secondly, Messi’s troublesome muscle injuries have been returning. When he was a youth player, the injuries threatened to derail his career, until Pep Guardiola devised a special training regime for him.
A top physio, Juanjo Brau, was assigned by Guardiola to look after Messi exclusively. Brau followed Messi to all his games, home and away, for club and country. His meticulous work, coupled with Messi’s dedication, kept the muscle injuries at bay, allowing Messi to become the greatest player in the world. Brau also became a huge part of Messi’s life, naturally, and was seen as something of a father figure to him.
But when Gerardo Martino took over from Guardiola, Brau was promoted to a new role. The results were disastrous for Messi. He had an injury-ravaged 2013, suffering four muscle injuries, and generally looking so far off the pace some accused him of saving his energy for the World Cup.
He had better luck with injuries in 2014, but his explosive pace isn’t quite what it used to be, and there’s no guarantee those muscle injuries won’t come back — even if his new club does decide to assign him his own physio.
Moreover, United’s transfer strategy over the past two decades has revolved around signing promising young players — Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Phil Jones, Nani, David de Gea, Javier Hernandez, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and even Roy Keane were all signed when they were young.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Ferguson. These players were hungry for success, and there wouldn’t be any pressure to succeed immediately. More important, Ferguson would have time to mould them to play the Manchester United way, to understand what the club is all about.
Imagine how many top young players Louis van Gaal would be able to sign with £172mil? In the long run, which LVG says is his priority, that would make much more sense.
As a Manchester United fan, there was a time I would have paid out of my own pocket to see Messi in a United jersey. Right now, I’m just praying it won’t happen.