And the saga of the past few weeks continue to rumble on. Speculation continues on the long-future of Lionel Messi at Barcelona and whether he really could call time on his career at the Nou Camp and say farewell to the culture and the city that have basically adopted him as one of their own and made him the player and the person that is he is today. While none of this is going to go away any time soon, at least until months and years pass and he’s still donning the shirt of the Blaugrana, it does make for some interesting discussions as to where he might go if he were to actually depart the Catalonian club.
One of the clubs he has been linked to is Chelsea, though no concrete reasons have actually been offered. It’s assumed that because of the large number of zeroes that appear on Roman Abramovich’s bank statements that Chelsea would be interested, given that any transfer fee would certainly be well into the triple digits in whatever currency you choose. Both Manchester City and Paris St-Germain have the financial clout, but amidst their issues with Financial Fair Play, it’s hard to see how that would be possible.
That leaves the Blues as the only feasible team in the world right now with the financial capability to actually pull off this transfer.
Now, from a footballing perspective, I do not want Messi at Chelsea. It has absolutely nothing to do with the whole “can he do it on a wet, cold Tuesday night in Stoke?” But it has a whole lot to do with the major clash in footballing ideals that signing Messi would bring to the club.
For starters, stylistically, Messi is a bit of conundrum. While he has had the whole false nine position created for him, essentially Messi is not a striker. He’s a number 10 that has wonderful finishing ability. That’s his position. When you watch him play, it’s no coincidence that Frank Rijkaard played him on the right wing in his early days, and even Pep Guardiola played him there until the departure of Samuel Eto’o. When Guardiola moved Messi centrally, it was to take advantage of the space that he could create by coming deep. He became harder to mark out of a match because of his freedom of movement, but it also meant that the team had to be constructed around those movements. No longer did you have a number 9 as a focal point to keep the center backs occupied, but rather a number 10 trying to pull the center backs forward. The evidence of this is how Argentina struggled at times to play with Messi as their team wasn’t constructed the same as Barcelona’s. It wasn’t until this World Cup cycle, where Messi tended to play more as a true number 10 that Argentina started to gel.
This all brings us back to Chelsea and how much of a mess the little maestro would cause. Because Jose Mourinho, even from his first stint as manager, has created a side that’s built to play a more direct brand of football, I don’t see how Messi works. Mourinho prefers to play with a striker, so Messi would most likely be asked to play in the three behind. But he doesn’t make a lot of direct runs to stretch the attack from a wide area, and in the middle, he doesn’t offer much in terms of pressing and winning the ball back. The last time Chelsea had a neat-and-tidy player that lacked a bit of directness was Juan Mata, and we all know what happened there.
Though Messi is not a fit for Chelsea now, had this been three years ago when Abramovich was flirting with “Barcelona football,” this story might have had a different tone.