Manchester City believe they will be Lionel Messi’s first choice if he decides to leave Barcelona, with the presence of Pep Guardiola among the reasons why they would be comfortably ahead of any other club in Europe.
City’s recent inquiries have yielded the same response as always, where Messi is concerned: a firm rejection of director of football Txiki Begiristain’s attempts to be reunited with the player, whose development he oversaw at the Spanish club.
City chief executive Ferran Soriano considers Messi to be the sport’s most sensational talent of all time. But Soriano knows from his several years running Barcelona that Messi’s retiring personality does not lend itself to a move to a non-Spanish-speaking country, where acclimatisation would be difficult.
However, City do not believe the prospect of Messi moving is extinct and are convinced the appointment of Guardiola cements their position as the Premier League club of choice for him, or any other Barcelona player looking to move to the Premier League.
The agents of players from many countries have been in touch with City since Guardiola’s appointment was confirmed, indicating their clients would like to be a part of the Catalan’s venture into English football. No such calls have been fielded from representatives of Barça players, however.
Soriano’s presence in Manchester would also appeal to Messi. The chief executive knows the 28-year-old’s family well, from his time at the Nou Camp, and became acquainted with him through off-field appearances, encouraging him at one awards event to forego his reticence and make an acceptance speech. That evening was one of a number of experiences which has made Soriano aware how difficult a move to the spotlight of the Premier League, with a new climate and language, would actually be for Messi.
The difficulty in detaching him from Barcelona, where his family are also settled, means City are not actively awaiting a change of heart. Instead, they are looking for the next player of his calibre – with an acceptance that the number of individuals capable of consistently dictating the outcome of a match at the highest level is perhaps 10 across the globe.
City are also encouraged by the progress of their Under-15s, 16s and 18s and want half of the squad to be home-grown in five years, though that is a big ambition.