It was a tantalising prospect. Lionel Messi at the Etihad, plying his trade for Manchester City and under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola, his former manager, once again. Every English fan looked forward to savouring the magician’s mesmerising brilliance, although opposition defenders were dreading the maestro. “I don’t want him anywhere near the Premier League,” said Liverpool’s Andy Robertson. Having encountered the little Argentine in the 2018/19 Champions League, Robertson is breathing a sigh of relief as Messi is staying at Barcelona.
He isn’t alone. Every other player in every other team in England’s top tier is doing likewise now that it has been confirmed that the word’s most gifted footballer is staying at Barcelona for the forthcoming season.
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We’ll have to keep wondering if he can do it on a cold, wet Tuesday night in Sheffield but it is heartening to see that an iota of sanity in football prevails; millions are spent on foreign imports, but nobody was willing to pay the frankly ridiculous 700 million euro sum for the release clause of the six-time Ballon d’Or winner. His dispute with the Spanish giants may be resolved but this is no happy ending.
The daunting thought of him leaving the Nou Camp after nearly 20 years has been avoided — if only for nine months — but the truth is it should never have got to this stage. Messi is their greatest ever player. He has scored 634 goals in 731 games. He has guided them to every piece of silverware. Yet, he was pleading with them to let him leave — and wanting out wasn’t because of that embarrassing 8-2 drubbing by Bayern.
“It was a very difficult year, I suffered a lot in training, in games and in the dressing room,” says the 33-year-old. “Everything became very difficult for me and there came a time when I considered looking for new ambitions. I told the club, including the president, that I wanted to go. I’ve been telling him that all year.”
Well, he’s staying and though he says he “will give it his all” it is unlikely to be a happy camp. His contract details were a key part of discussions this week and a massive reason why he feels so betrayed. Messi is shackled to a club that he loves, but clearly now distrusts and although the transfer talk is over, there is no real closure. It feels like nobody has got what they really wanted.