Lionel Messi signed off on a stellar 21-year career at Barcelona on Thursday, becoming the hottest free agent on the planet.
The guy is like Michael Jordan, Troy Aikman, Tiger Woods, Pele and Diego Maradona all rolled into one. A true legend of his sport.
But while all these hall-of-famers have long-since hung up their sneakers, cleats and boots, the Argentine superstar still has more to offer at the tender age of 34. The Copa America leading goalscorer is in the process of lighting up the tournament to Chile and Bolivia’s expense. Ecuador will be next.
One problem ... which club wants him?
All roads point to Manchester City or Paris St-Germain.
Hmmm. City will be making a big mistake if they try to accommodate the diminutive wizard. He may come knocking now he is a free agent. The overtures last summer concerned me when Messi publicly fell out with the Barcelona bosses and only some legal red tape kept him at the club. But City have come on leaps and bounds since then — a move to new pastures for Messi may have been feasible then, but now it is just silly to entertain.
The undoubted talent is there for all to see as Messi endeavours to win his first major international trophy with Argentina at the Copa, but he comes with more baggage than a planeload of Kardashians.
No. 1: He is older than most. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has proved that the elder statesmen can still so a job, but it is a risky and expensive outlay without any guarantee of success. The longer it drags on, the older he gets.
No. 2: Naturally that brings us to the cost. Messi don’t play for free, and any club will have to fork out a massive salary and hope shirt sales balance out, because injuries could wreck any plan for silverware. An eye-watering salary could bust a club if there is no return.
No. 3: There are better options out there. Messi’s Barcelona teammate Antoine Griezmann is also available, and he is younger and cheaper. The Euros are rapidly illustrating the vast talent out there.
No. 4: City and PSG don’t need him. Plain and simple, they have better players in their squad and they cannot unearth new gems like Phil Foden if a new No. 10 is demanding game time.
No. 5: The dressing room. It happened with Ronaldo at Juventus. It would happen with Messi at the Etihad. Bringing in a superstar will automatically demote a successful squad, and strutting stellar icons, with their unveilings, press conferences and social media stunts can really upset a team.
This last one is my major concern.
Why would English Premier League champions, Uefa Champions League finalists and serial trophy snafflers Manchester City blow a budget on a guy nearing the end of his career? With the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden mapping out the future for City, a move for Messi would seem like a step back. Even for PSG, with Kylian Mbappe and a pricey veteran in Neymar on the books, Messi would be a financial and social nightmare (who is the star? Cue Anelka-sized French fights).
Messi’s skills are unquestionable, but if he wanted to link up with former boss Pep Guardiola at the Etihad — the man who helped put him on the map at Camp Nou — it should have been at least three years ago.
Ronaldo and his ego house of pain and pleasure jumped around — we have seen him in the red of Manchester, the white of Real Madrid and the zebra stripes of Juventus, all the while picking up trophies and accolades — but Messi remained a one-man club at Barca from the age of 12. A move now to a new venue would be seismic and I really fail to see the advantage for anyone involved (except the money men in the middle and some shirt sponsors).
I do not know where Messi will end up next, but it will be disruptive rather than productive in any camp.