For the first time in his career, Lionel Messi is looking for a new club.
Barcelona announced on Thursday contract talks had been unsuccessful due to the “economic and structural obstacles” of LaLiga’s salary restrictions.
Messi’s next step is far from obvious, but what if we imagine money is no object and he could play for anyone he chooses? What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?
We’ve has imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we’d love to see him play for…
The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it’s a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.
From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.
Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side – who are beautiful to watch as it is – is a wonderful idea. He will certainly know all about the club from former player and close friend Luis Suarez.
Given the players Barca have signed from Ajax in the past – Frenkie de Jong the latest – it would be nice to see a player going in the opposite direction.
05/03 – On this day in 2019, Ajax won 4-1 against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu – the Spanish giants’ largest ever home defeat in the knockout stages of any European competition. Total. pic.twitter.com/w3hZWBLOVY
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 5, 2020
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have captured the hearts of the football world in recent seasons, threatening title challenges in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2019-20.
They have done all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region particularly hard.
The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulled the strings for Atalanta in the past was a joy to watch, but imagine if compatriot Messi were in that role. Imagine him again facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon’s Twitter feed.
Glorious, isn’t it?
24 – @Atalanta_BC have found the net in 24 successive Serie A matches, a new record for the club in the Italian top-flight. Overwhelming.#SerieATIM #MilanAtalanta pic.twitter.com/uzam37DgiF
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) July 24, 2020
The GOAT and the Billy Goats – what could be better?
Cologne have gone through some tricky times but will hope to be on the up again in the Bundesliga after surviving a relegation play-off last term.
They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany’s most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. If Messi could lead them to challenge the might of Bayern Munich, it would be an unforgettable story.
If not… well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness’ sake. It’s too perfect.
There aren’t many goats who get cheered on by 50,000 people every other weekend.
To you, Hennes! #effzeh pic.twitter.com/XJyUljUdPc
— 1. FC Cologne (@fckoeln_en) October 4, 2019
It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell’s Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario’s other most famous footballing export in Yorkshire?
Leeds United returned to the Premier League with a bang last season, continuing their progress under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.
The chance to truly awaken a sleeping giant of the English game and take Leeds to the next level while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that’s too good to miss.
Plus, if he wanted to visit Pep, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.