Should Lionel Messi Consider a Move Away from La Liga?
Lionel Messi began the 2018/19 season by grabbing a microphone and declaring to a rapt audience that he would bring the Champions League back to Barcelona. A crowd of more than 70,000 fans inside the Nou Camp roared with delight at this display of ambition and determination from their inspirational captain. The mercurial forward then set about making good on his promise, banging in 12 goals in 10 games to put Barca on the brink of the final. Yet his team somehow contrived to throw away a 3-0 aggregate lead on a humbling night at Anfield and the great man was left crestfallen.
You could not accuse Messi of lacking effort. The 31-year-old fired in a hat-trick to put PSV Eindhoven to the sword in their opening group stage contest. He scored twice at Wembley to vanquish Tottenham. He grabbed the winner in a second match against PSV Eindhoven and sent them through to the knockout stages. He was irrepressible in the second leg of Barcelona’s last 16 clash against Lyon, scoring twice and laying on another two assists to hand his side a 5-1 victory. At times this season, the Spanish champions have looked like a one-man team, a sentiment emphasised when Messi needed to come off the bench to score in the 1-0 win over Levante to secure the title.
Messi’s Individual Brilliance
Barcelona were overwhelming favourites to reach the Champions League final, and the pundits and odds compilers at bookmakers like marathonbet.co.uk were dazzled by his brilliance once more. Yet Barcelona played like schoolboys in the return leg. They were outfoxed, overrun and totally ripped apart by Jurgen Klopp’s men, who played heavy metal football at full blast and ran riot on a stirring night at Anfield. It was heart breaking for Messi, but a grim sense of déjà vu washed over the Barcelona fans.
Just last season, they threw away a three-goal aggregate lead against Roma in the quarter-finals of this competition. Roma were not a particularly impressive side, and Liverpool quietly butchered them in the semis. It all points to an alarming mentality among this team, who now seem to have a mental block when it comes to the Champions League. They have not been crowned champions of Europe since 2015, when goals from Ivan Rakitic, Suarez and Neymar handed them a 3-1 victory over Juventus.
Messi has now won 10 La Liga titles, an extremely impressive haul when you consider just how much money Real Madrid throw around. For the majority of that time he was in direct competition with Cristiano Ronaldo at Real, yet invariably Messi’s Barcelona prevailed in the domestic stakes. The Messi versus Ronaldo debate could rage for eternity, but in the silverware stakes Messi is largely in the ascendancy. He has 10 league titles to Ronaldo’s six and he has more cup winner’s medals too, but he does trail the Portuguese superstar in terms of Champions League titles.
Ronaldo won the competition with Man Utd in 2008, then with Real in 2014, before winning it three times in a row between 2016 and 2018, taking his tally to five. Ronaldo has now moved to Italy, where he has just led Juventus to the Serie A title, although they also faltered in the Champions League. Messi remains stuck on four Champions League titles and he may be tempted to abandon his team and head off for pastures new in a bid to secure more success in Europe.
Scarce Options on the Continent
However, it is hard to see where he would go. The case of Neymar provides a cautionary tale about turning your back on Barcelona in search of fame and fortune elsewhere. The Brazilian wanted to escape Messi’s shadow at the Nou Camp and become known as the world’s best player by flourishing elsewhere. He decided that the French capital was the perfect destination for him to achieve this, but the results of this gamble have been distinctly underwhelming. PSG may have cantered to a couple of Ligue 1 titles, but there is nothing particularly impressive about that when you consider the level of competition in France and the amount the Parisians spend. PSG have massively struggled in Europe and this season they were dumped out of the Champions League by a poor Man Utd side.
There is no way that Juventus could afford to pair Messi with Ronaldo up front, and it is unlikely that they would want to play together in the same team. Bayern Munich cannot afford him either, and it is inconceivable to imagine Messi moving to Madrid. That leaves England as the only realistic destination for the Argentinean virtuoso, and it is certainly an intriguing one. However, options there are limited. Man City could be a conceivable destination for him and the opportunity to link up with Pep Guardiola once more could be an influence.
Further down the Premier League table there is no way Arsenal or Tottenham could capture Messi’s signature. Chelsea could afford him, but they have been hit by a transfer ban for the next two windows, and owner Roman Abramovich seems to have fallen somewhat out of love with his west London project. That leaves only Liverpool and Man Utd. The Red Devils could probably scrape together the cash to sign Messi, but Old Trafford is an unattractive destination right now. Anfield is an extremely attractive one, but it is doubtful that Liverpool could afford Messi without having to offload several stars, and he is not really a Jurgen Klopp type of player anyway.
Messi’s best bet is to stick around at the Nou Camp and apply intense pressure on the board to build a team around him that is capable of ending the drought in Europe. His individual brilliance is enough to swing most games in his team’s favour, but he needs more help from his teammates. Rather than having a mental block, you could actually accuse Barca of having a physical one. Midfielders Sergio Busquets, Rakitic and Arturo Vidal are all past 30 now, and they lacked the energy to cope with Liverpool’s all-action style in the second leg of their semi-final clash.
Busquets looks a shadow of his former self, age is catching up with Suarez and this team needs a fresh injection of youthful dynamism. The signings of Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho have not really worked out, but Barcelona are among the world’s top three richest clubs and they will surely spend big in the summer once more. They have already captured the signature of Ajax’s exciting young midfielder, Frenkie de Jong, while Antoine Griezmann is also expected to join the club. Barcelona will be hell-bent on seizing more silverware during the twilight years of the Messi era, and there is no better home for him in world football. The adulation he receives at the Nou Camp is huge and he can repay the love by leading a new-look Barca to European glory in the years ahead.