Pep Guardiola extending his contract at Manchester City could mean Lionel Messi's potential move to the Premier League giants is still on the cards, but would the two football geniuses, who made history together at FC Barcelona, even get along today?
If you're a football romantic, the prospect of seeing Guardiola whisper instructions into Messi's ear during an intense UEFA Champions League match once again is something that would probably excite you. You are, after all, only human.
On Thursday, City announced that the 49-year-old had extended his contract in England, leading to speculation that Messi's hopes of leaving the LaLiga giants to rejoin forces with his ex-boss remain a possibility, especially with the 33-year-old's deal in Spain expiring in 2021.
Messi and Guardiola spent four years together at the Blaugrana from 2008 to 2012, winning 14 pieces of silverware as a pair, including three consecutive LaLiga titles and two Champions League trophies. It was the beautiful game at its very best, it was the inch-perfect aligning of stars, and it's for that very reason I'm careful to not over-glamourise a potential reunion.
In 219 appearances under the Spanish tactician, Messi registered 211 goals. In addition, he provided 91 assists for his teammates, which means that he contributed to a goal every 60 minutes under Guardiola. A goal every hour because of Messi. Now, while we might not expect those same numbers if they were to work together again, a lot has changed.
It might be obvious to point out, but it is important that we do away with our perceptions of what we believe Messi and Guardiola's relationship was and is like. We often saw them hugging, we saw them celebrating victories and trophies like two old pals, but they did butt heads, perhaps more often than we romantics would like to acknowledge.
Of course, this is completely normal and does not mean their relationship took irreparable strain, but it was far from a father-and-son bond. Messi and Guardiola are two brilliant football minds, although it would be a stretch to suggest they were sharing life lessons with one another late at night. They were rather like two scientists, one slightly more animated, working together for the purpose of results. I'm finding it hard not to make a joke about chemistry…
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In 2015, three years on from Guardiola's exit from Barcelona, Messi claimed he and the then-Bayern Munich manager no longer had a relationship. While he might not have wanted to sound that blunt, it didn't exactly give us the impression they were ever best friends, and while there was and is still a mutual respect, it was perhaps a marriage of convenience. In that same interview five years ago, Messi also said that it "was the time when I grew most as a footballer", with that last word being key.
Since they worked together eight years ago, Messi's game has evolved dramatically, as has Guardiola's philosophies, systems and style. I have no doubt the Argentine, even into his mid-thirties, can be a leading player in the demanding Premier League, but I am not expecting all sunshine and roses if they were to get the band back together.
Messi wants to leave Barcelona because of the state of the club, not because he is desperate to work with his former boss again. Guardiola would welcome Messi to Manchester City because the six-time Ballon d'Or winner would give him a better chance of winning football games, not because he misses what they once had. It would have to make practical sense, and not be a move driven by emotion or even commercial gain, although that would likely play a role for City's owners.
Messi wants to win another Champions League trophy, as does Guardiola, and maybe they are both at the point where they believe that, right now, they have a better chance of achieving that together. The Argentina captain also wants to spend his last few good years at a club that is not surrounded by controversy, and in a team that is well structured and suits him. I'm sure he would love to have had that at Barcelona until retirement, but he doesn't and might not for a while still.
I can imagine the Argentine sees Guardiola as the man who can benefit him immediately, and I can imagine Guardiola, though maybe to a lesser extent, feels the same way. Personally, I hope the move happens, but it is so difficult to recreate a fairy-tale...
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