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Where Should Lionel Messi Go Next?

Messi posing with his Ballon D'Or trophies
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Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona. This time it is real; there is no powerplay or politics involved. Barcelona are unable to find an agreement with Messi after the La Liga spending restrictions has reduced their wage limit from €671 million to €382.7 million this season, and the Argentinian’s contract will not be renewed.


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But where does Messi go next? As expected, football clubs and social media teams rushed to quickly photoshop a photo of Messi wearing their kit and make announcements that he should come there. Yes, that is all great for social media engagement numbers. But in reality, only a precious few can even think of signing Messi in the current market.

The Argentinian earned a salary of over €100 million from Barcelona that includes wages, bonuses, image rights payments, and really only PSG and Manchester City can afford that in this depressed market.

However, what is the best stylistic fit for Messi? Which club best suits his style of play and would be the ideal destination for the Argentinian to see out the rest of his European playing career. Let’s find out.



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The obvious answer would be Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Although they are one of the few clubs who could afford him, they are also possibly the best stylistic fit for Messi in terms of how they play. Guardiola’s tenure at the Nou Camp also coincided with Messi’s peak in terms of his goalscoring, and the two of them helped revolutionize football as we know it and won 14 trophies along the way in only four seasons.

Under Guardiola at Barcelona, Messi was used in various roles depending on the personnel around him. He was often used as a false nine in a 4-3-3 as well as on the right of a front three. Similarly, at Manchester City, Messi can be used as the central striker in their 4-3-3 system and operate as a false nine. With Aguero and Jesus both injured for large parts of the year, Manchester City rarely played with a striker last season and forced Pep to rotate midfielders Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne as his false nine.

Messi would be the perfect solution to City’s striker problem, and the Argentinian would excel as a false nine with his ability to drop deep and dictate the play with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez or Ferran Torres running in behind the defence.



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Another interesting move for Lionel Messi which could work stylistically is a move to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, wherein he would replace Roberto Firmino as the false nine. In Liverpool’s system, the centre forward Roberto Firmino drops deep into the space between the midfield and defence before turning and looking for a pass or the opportunity to dribble. Lionel Messi popularized this role in Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and could perform a similar job in this Liverpool team. 

While Liverpool are in possession, Messi could drop deep as a false nine to receive the ball between the lines before looking to dictate the play. If the centre back follows him, it leaves open spaces behind the defence for the likes of Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane to exploit, and if the defence drops deep, it allows Messi time and space to run with the ball and pick out more precise passes or shoot. 

The key difference, however, is that Klopp operates a high pressing system with Roberto Firmino performing nearly 19 pressures per 90 last season as the leader of Liverpool’s press. Messi comparatively only made 8 pressures per 90 last season and if he were to sign, the wide forwards Salah and Mane would have to put in the extra defensive work to accommodate the greatest player who ever lived in Jurgen Klopp’s system.



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Another team that would suit Messi’s style of play where he could play as a false nine or from the right-wing is PSG. Messi could reunite with his former Barcelona teammate Neymar and the front three of Neymar, Mbappe, and Messi could go down as one of the most frightening attacks in football history. In this set-up, Pochettino could line up PSG in a 4-3-3 with Neymar on the left, Mbappe in the middle and Messi on the right. 

The three of them could be given the freedom to alternate positions throughout the game, with Messi preferring to drop deep to link the play while also exploiting the pace of Neymar and Mbappe in behind. Both PSG and Messi are chasing that elusive Champions League trophy, and signing Messi could be the missing ingredient for PSG to win that European crown.


And finally, if one club fits Messi’s style both on and off the pitch, it would have to be Atalanta. In a utopian world where finances are irrelevant, the ideal destination for the little genius is the tiny Italian town of Bergamo. At Atalanta Messi can still play Champions League football, enjoy the lovely Italian weather and go to Lake Como on his days off while also having one last dance with Cristiano Ronaldo in Serie A.

Additionally, Atalanta are one of the most unique teams in Europe tactically, and Messi would fit perfectly in their set-up. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side uses a 3-4-1-2 formation, and Lionel Messi would be ideal for the number 10 role which was previously occupied by his Argentine compatriot Papu Gomez

Atalanta’s build-up play focuses on creating overloads in the wide areas of the pitch while allowing their number 10 to have a free role in the centre of the pitch. Messi’s role in this system would be to collect the ball deep and shift it wide before pushing up in the half-spaces as the free man from where he can shoot or play quick one-twos with the forwards. The critics have always questioned Messi’s ability to perform without Barcelona but winning the Serie A with Atalanta – just like Maradona did with Napoli – could cement his legacy as the greatest to ever do it.


[Image Credit: FC Barcelona]