As the worlds greatest footballer trudged down the tunnel of an empty stadium in Lisbon following the most devastating and humiliating defeat in Barcelona’s Champions League history against Bayern Munich, Lionel Messi must have thought to himself ‘this is it’.
Having last won the competition in 2015, Barcelona have slowly fell to worse and worse results in the continents biggest club cup, knocked out by Atletico Madrid after losing a second leg quarter final in 2016 by two goals following a first leg 2-1 win they might have fell alarmingly at an even earlier stage in 2017 to Paris Saint-Germain in the round of sixteen following a devastating 4-0 first leg loss but for recovering from mission impossible thanks to a remarkable 6-1 second leg win before being knocked out by Juventus in the Quarter Finals 3-0 in Turin.
In 2018 it was Roma’s turn to wallop Barca in the Quarter Finals after la blaugrana beat them 4-1 at the Nou Camp with the Italians winning on the away goals rule thanks to a stunning and unlikely 3-0 comeback win at the Stadio Olimpico.
Last year Liverpool pounced on the now infamous culer defensive frailties to overcome a 3-0 first leg deficit to win 4-0 in a semi-final second leg at Anfield and this year, last week, it all got so much worse for Barcelona who were stuffed, trounced, thrown out of site and embarrassed by the machine that is Bayern Munich who beat them 8-2.
The hold Messi has over his team is said to be strong enough to have seen off Coach Ernesto Valverde who was sacked in January despite his team then being top of the league. The hold he has over his team is most certainly strong enough to influence the all important Presidential Elections, but those thinking Lionel Messi is calling bluff on asking to finally leave Barcelona after 17 years at the club in order to ‘influence’ an election will be mistaken. Messi who has seen Ronaldo and Neymar recently flourish outside of La Liga has finally had enough… He can do no more at Barca, the opportunity is perfect for him to move on and prove that he still has the ability and hunger to achieve success elsewhere.
But who would want him? More importantly who can afford him?
Manchester City could be top of that pile with Pep Guardiola a long loving friend and coach who knows how to get the best out of the diminutive Argentinean. Whilst City came close to a UCL ban they must now tighten their finances to implicate that they follow the rules of UEFA but a move for Messi is not out of the question with a clause in his contract meaning Barcelona could reluctantly release him on a free. Otherwise the €700m price figure that can spark negotiations might be well out of reach.
In England whilst Liverpool, Manchester United and perhaps Chelsea or Spurs could afford him of those only United may take a gamble, Messi could be persuaded by the red or blue of Manchester as both teams take on exciting projects to reach the pinnacle of European Football. City is the favoured destination for Messi to achieve unprecedented success, United could be an exciting rebuilding programme for the Rosario born attacker to get his teeth into.
Away from England I see only Italy as a realistic destination for Messi should he decide to stay in Europe. Neymar wouldn’t accept Messi to once again overshadow him at PSG whilst Real Madrid won’t even have the cheek.
A possible link up with Juventus and Ronaldo could offer dream scenario for fans wanting to see the best striking duo the world has ever seen play together whilst Milan maybe more realistic as Inter look to topple the Old Lady’s Italian crown although AC would like United be an exciting rebuilding project too.
Who even knows, following the shoe steps of Maradona to Napoli could be a match also made in heaven?
Probability should Messi not overturn his decision and stay with Barca could be a return home to Newell’s Old Boys who he played for as a junior although Boca or River could be more tempting financially.
If it’s money Messi wants and one last pay off, perhaps China or the Middle East could pay his way? Lifestyle choices could pursued him to move to LA, Miami or New York and a MLS franchise?
Whatever his decision, this decision now represents one first and last big move for a player that has 645 career goals in 763 games and is widely considered as the GOAT.
Whilst many argue that Ronaldo has done it elsewhere Messi now has the potential to quash those that say he’s not proved himself outside La Liga. I hope he stays in Europe and gives us another 2/3 years of playing at the top of his game, whether that be in England or Italy would be to the benefit of those paying to watch him play week in week out.
For me the greatest of all time and the best player I have ever seen play live, one that I feel his time has ended with Barcelona, taken as far as it can go and one that I feel can still prove legendary at whichever club he chooses next.