Written for IOL Sport
Confession up front. I am all Liverpool.
Another confession: If the world is to see Lionel Messi’s career rejuvenation at 33 years-old, it can only be with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
When I write rejuvenation, please read it correctly; it is more a refresh than any rejuvenation because Messi’s club and international career has never been in a slump.
Messi is the world’s greatest player, in this generation and also in the history of the game.
Statistically one can’t argue Messi’s claim to being the greatest of all time. Subjectively, those opposed to Messi will argue things beyond statistics, like the fact that he has only ever played for Barcelona in La Liga.
I’ve never bought into that kind of talk. If you subscribe to that view then you subscribe to the one that says Wayne Rooney wasn’t quite as good because his career was primarily Manchester United, that Steven Gerrard never made it because he was all Liverpool, that Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs weren’t tested because they were Manchester United and that Alex Ferguson was never as good as a manager because after his apprenticeship at Aberdeen he was exclusively Manchester United. To question Messi as a player based on his association with Barcelona is to question Sir Alex based on his exclusivity to Manchester United.
I don’t question Messi, just like I never questioned Ferguson’s career contribution as a manager.
Before we talk about where Messi may go, should he leave Barcelona, a brief summary of Messi and Barcelona: He joined the club as a 13 year-old from his native Rosario in Argentina and won 33 trophies, including 10 La Liga titles, four Champions League titles and six Copas del Rey. He has also been named the world’s best player six times.
Messi has scored 634 goals in 731 matches for Barcelona and assisted in 256 goals, which means his goal-scoring involvement for Barcelona has been 890 goals in 731 matches. Another way to articulate this is that Messi has contributed to a goal every 66 minutes and 11 seconds since his debut on 16th September 2004.
For the record, Ronaldo participates in a goal every 82 minutes, has played 145 matches more than Messi and scored 33 goals more. But, despite the 145-match disadvantage, Messi has assisted in 79 more goals.
I digress, this is not about the brilliance of Messi versus Ronaldo. Both are exceptional players and we live in an era where we are privileged to have watched both of them.
This is about Messi’s Indian Summer as a professional footballer. He is 33 years-old, so father time says he has two years, possibly three left.
He isn’t going to win a World Cup with Argentina because they simply aren’t good enough to be the world’s best. In spite of Argentina’s woes, Messi has scored 70 goals and made 42 assists in 138 matches.
Messi has scored and provided the assist in 1002 goals in 869 matches for club or country. No player in the Champions League has scored more goals against English clubs and his 26 goals and six assists in 34 matches against English opposition is a statement that mocks those who believe he couldn’t hack it in the Premier League.
Messi has nothing to prove going to the Premier League. He has everything to gain reconnecting with Guardiola.
The Manchester City boss is a Messi disciple. Guardiola has always been insistent that there is Messi and then the rest.
Inter Milan have always wanted Messi and Paris Saint-Germain’s owners love the marketing appeal of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Messi would be winding down the clock in the French league and he’d get bored with dominance in the Italian league.
If it is a challenge Messi wants, it has to be the Premier League and if Manchester City want to be champions of Europe, then it will be because of Messi.
If Messi stays at Barcelona, he will always be brilliant but he will suffer from boredom, whereas at City his only suffering will be the English cold because his football will always be sizzling hot.