Which Premier League club would best suit Lionel Messi?
Lionel Messi linked with Barcelona exit - check out the best Premier League options
If there are any lingering questions remaining on the already glittering career of Lionel Messi, it would be whether he will one day be able to steer Argentina to World Cup glory, and whether he would be able to replicate his staggering level of performance for a club outside Spain.
These two questions have always been central in the critique of the Barcelona superstar as they have been perpetually left unanswered where they have looked all the more glaring given his remarkable feats for Barcelona in the Champions league and La Liga.
When comparing Messi with the all time greats, critics constantly point to compatriot Diego Maradona's awe inspiring performances during Mexico 1986 which fulfilled a personal destiny and elevated the Napoli icon to legendary status.
Of the two World Cup's Messi has participated in, Argentina have been thwarted by Germany on both occasions with a heartbreaking penalty defeat in 2006 while in 2010 the Albiceleste were taught a footballing lesson in a 4-0 rout.
However, Messi was just 19 and 23 years of age during those tournaments, hardly a fair gauge of his capabilities. Many of the games immortals have failed to win World Cups as the likes of Johan Cruyff, Lev Yashin and Eusebio - all of whom were the undisputed stars of the respective nations - attests to, hence it would be unfair to denigrate Messi at the end of his career if he failed to help Argentina win a third World Cup.
A switch of leagues remains the only feasible move to quell the doubters, and if he was to move, there is arguably no league as distinct or challenging than the English Premier League.
With recent murmurings about Adidas allegedly offering to offset some of the considerable funds required to lure the Argentine to a major Adidas sponsored club such as Chelsea or Bayern Munich, it seems however unlikely or inaccurate the rumours are, the idea of coaxing the Catalans into selling their prized asset is not as impossible or unfathomable as it may seem.
There are seemingly just two possible destinations: London or Manchester.
Arsene Wenger's side have fought valiantly over the last few years to remain relevant as they're best players have constantly been courted and have inevitably departed, but they have consistently responded to at least achieve Champions League qualification. Long term, the losses of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor has left the Gunners with a serious lack of quality and star power.
Recently, they have shipped in players of increasing pedigree and stature with Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil joining the club. Having been so financially frugal for so long and the Emirates Stadium being close to being paid off, Arsenal are one of a handful of clubs who could afford the astronomical fee that would be required to bring Leo Messi to north London.
Whats more, Messi would no doubt be enticed by the prospect of joining a club who play the same possession based free flowing football that has been the hallmark of both Arsenal and Barcelona over the years. The transition would be seamless in terms of Messi adapting to the playing style, while Arsenal would enjoy having a badly needed injection of star quality.
The only problem that remains would be what position Messi would be best utilised. Whilst it may well work when your talking about possibly the best player of all time, the chances of Messi resuming his false nine role at the Emirates Stadium remain slim and is ill advised given the brutish and physical nature of EPL defences. If Wenger sticks to a lone striker, then Messi could be equally devastating on the flanks or in behind the striker in Arsenal's 4-2-3-1 system where Messi could roam free in the wider spaces found in the Premier league compared to La Liga.
Alternatively, Arsenal could play two up front where Messi would partner and play off the towering Olivier Giroud who has improved immensely this season, where a narrow diamond 4-4-2 would facilitate and bring the best out of Arsenal's raft of midfield probers.
Verdict: They can afford it, have the virtue of playing a similar playing style and would welcome a superstar to base the team around. Therefore, they are probably Messi's most suitable and likely destination, but it seems Arsene Wenger would not be summoning the monstrous figure that Barcelona would demand if they ever thought of selling the Argentine.
Having undergone a drastic overhauling of an ageing team for two summers now with the injection of several young and bright attacking prospects, it would seem nonsensical to bring in Lionel Messi even if he is the best player in the world. Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar, Andre Schurle, Willian, Kevin de Bruyne and Victor Moses are some of the most gifted attacking talents in the world today and are the envy of many clubs.
The focus on trying to play an attractive passing brand of football in the mould of Barcelona as has been the request by owner Roman Abramovich, has meant that the big, strong and powerful Chelsea who would once upon a time bully teams into submission with an uncouthness yet a ruthlessness is no more. The arrival of Lionel Messi would go a long way in helping the transition towards a more fluid and passing style of play as Chelsea still look incoherent and out of sync at times.
Chelsea have the financial clout to make a deal happen, especially if Adidas were to provide a helping hand in paying for the transfer fee. However, given the sheer number of attacking talents at Stamford Bridge and the quality of some of them such as Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar, Chelsea may feel that their future is secure with their current crop of offensive schemers.
Jose Mourinho does not have the best of relationships with Messi, as things first got frosty when Mourinho criticised Messi for diving in the wake of Asier Del Horno's dismissal during a Champions League fixture with Barcelona in 2006, and remained so after countless scuffles and controversies between Real Madrid and Barcelona during the Portuguese tacticians tenure at the Bernabeu.
Verdict: The Blues could afford Messi even without the help of Adidas so it would seem Stamford Bridge is a contender when Barcelona flags its price. However, the less than cordial relationship between Messi and Mourinho and the fact that Chelsea have plenty of creative options, means that Chelsea would not exactly benefit from Messi's arrival. Of course, Chelsea are desperate for a consistent goalscorer and no one scores more than Lionel Messi so his scoring exploits could mean Chelsea might be the perfect fit there will be concerns over his ability to lead the line in the Premier League. Otherwise the only other reason Messi would want to join Chelsea would be so he could finally hit the back of the net against Petr Cech, albeit at training.
There isn't a player the Citizens cannot afford such is their wealth thanks to Sheik Mansour and the Abu Dhabi United Group. Having assembled a phenomenal team in recent years with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart forming a formidable spine, the pursuit of Lionel Messi is perhaps a stretch considering how much money would be required. However, City have a strong Argentinian contingent at present with Sergio Aguero, Martin Demichelis and Pablo Zabaleta on the books and Carlos Tevez also sharing strong association with City. That distinctly Argentinian flavour at the Etihad Stadium as well as the possibility of donning a sky blue shirt for the rest of his career for club and country could prove to be drawing cards.
Of course, given that City are filled with prima donnas and are especially well stocked in attack with Edin Dzeko, Stefan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo, Samir Nasri, David Silva and Jesus Navas to support star man Sergio Aguero, it seems Messi would cause a great deal of problems internally. Currently, Manuel Pellegrini's men have a nice balance in the team especially since the departure of troublemakers Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and the pugnacious former manager Roberto Mancini. Maligned players such as Nasri and Dzeko have been promising this season while the new manager Pellegrini has shown himself to be a calm and calculated trainer who can handle what is sometimes a chaotic and circus like atmosphere in the Manchester City camp.
The seemingly settled City team could do without the elephant in the room that would be Lionel Messi who no doubt cause incumbent first team players to seek greener pastures and once more unsettle the balance of the team. Under Mancini, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero were dangerous as a floating double act up front in a 4-2-3-1 system, therefore there is a blueprint for an easy transition and hopefully success for City if Messi was to arrive as he has been playing as false nine in recent years.
Verdict: Money is not a problem, settling into England would be made all the more easier by the presence of several Argentines and slotting into the current system is easier than most think. However, it is the ripple effects that are most ominous as we have seen so many times with the arrival of a superstar dislodging a lesser, yet nonetheless still superstar quality player and then watch as unrest and turbulence plagues the team.
Whilst the Champions are not lacking firepower with the likes of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck up front and Nani, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia in wide areas, the futures of progress of many of the aforementioned players are uncertain.
It has been well documented how Rooney has desired a move away from Old Trafford and if he was to leave in the future, United would need a new fulcrum in attack and Messi would fit the bill perfectly. Even if Rooney was to stay, van Persie will be 31 next season and with his injury record his next injury could spell the end of his prolific scoring days. Hernandez has been linked with a move elsewhere given his perpetual role as a super sub, while Welbeck has flattered to deceive. Nani, whilst signing a new contract with United has continued to frustrate and has caused friction between him and supporters so a departure is more and more likely with every underwhelming performance.
Ashley Young has regressed from his impressive first season and is attracting attention more so for his play acting than his play itself. Kagawa has clearly been on the periphery since his arrival and it has not changed under David Moyes with many suggesting he leaves to find first team football in this important World Cup year.
Therefore, with so much uncertainty surrounding United's attackers, Messi could fill a considerable void, at least in terms of sheer numbers lost, where he is more than capable of making up for the lack of productivity of his teammates. However, whilst down the track Messi's arrival could be easily facilitated by a number of sales and subsequent vacant positions, at present United do not have anywhere near the financial muscle to lure the Camp Nou ace. Nor do they have the room, with surely the trio of Rooney, van Persie and Messi too big a set of egos for Moyes to manage. The only way they could possibly be fit into a system would be for Messi to take a midfield role where he is entrusted with providing the craft and cutting edge that United so sorely lack from midfield so that United's ample firepower is given the adequate ammunition.
Verdict: Perhaps the least likely destination for the Barca man as United would have to go deeper into debt or require a miracle to afford his signature. Whilst Messi would most certainly improve the team like he would for every other team, United are well stocked in attack and while uncertainty clouds many of the futures who are tasked with providing the goals at Old Trafford, until such a time of fire sales ensues, United can only dream of Messi donning the red of Manchester United. There is also the notion that Messi's arrival could stunt the growth of one Adnan Januzaj.
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