Take off the rose-tinted glasses and the evidence of our own eyes has to be that Lionel Messi is not the bewitching footballer he used to be. Not quite.
Nor is he likely to be so again, whether he ends up playing in Manchester or on the moon. Neither does he appear any longer to be the dear little Leo of his carefully curated image.
Lionel Messi’s 20-year love-in with Barcelona is set to conclude after his transfer request
At 33, Messi is reaching for the last mega-cash-out of his brilliant career. Not that he should be singularly crucified, since this is the way of it with pretty much all football’s superstars in this obscenely commercial age.
Although whenever his legion of adoring fans in Catalonia recover from the shock, they may begin to question why, after so many seasons basking in Barca’s bounteous benefits, there is no sign of their idol accepting so much as one iota of responsibility for the trough in which this great club is currently becalmed.
Apparently it is the fault of everyone else – the president, the directors, the coaches, presumably several other players, maybe the groundsman – that this has been a season without silver.
Yet the Messiah of the Ramblas was no more than a peripheral figure in the disaster which crystallised the plight of the current team. Nor was that 8-2 Champions League humiliation by Bayern Munich the only time of late when Messi has fidgeted around the edges of a game.
If ever there has been a time for him to justify his near-million euros a week wages, this has been it.
Which ought to give Manchester City food for thought over dinner with Messi’s father, the final bill for which could make it the most expensive Lancashire hot-pot of all time.
If City were not free from the financial restraints on other clubs, the likes of even Manchester United included, would they really be throwing hundreds of millions at the signing of Lionel Messi?
Were they not underpinned by a seemingly bottomless pit of Middle East oil wealth, would they be indulging the transparent desire of Messi to be reunited with Pep Guardiola, an urge surely shared by the manager with whom he enjoyed Champions League and LaLiga success in Spain?
Messi enjoyed domestic and European success with Pep Guardiola at Barca from 2008-2012
Of course some of the massive potential outlay can be recouped from sponsorship, marketing and such. But that can never come close to meeting Messi’s estimated yearly wage of around £95m, let alone an additional £626m (€700m) on top of that if he cannot legally finagle the free-transfer clause in his Barcelona contract beyond its June 10 expiry date.
Not when he is unlikely to be anywhere near the peak of his powers for more than two years.
And in the light of his failure to lift Barca on his shoulder in recent weeks, will Messi really be able to reinvigorate City sufficiently to regain the Premier League title lost to Liverpool and also enable Guardiola to deliver unto them the Champions League glory which has eluded them thus far?
It is not inconceivable that if Messi moves to City, Pep and Leo could sink together next season
Assuming Messi makes his great escape to the Etihad, it is by no means inconceivable, once the initial euphoria of his arrival subsides, that Leo and Pep could sink together.
To be frank the glib description of Messi as the greatest footballer of all time, which is background noise to these transfer manoeuvres, does not stand up to scrutiny.
Unlike Diego Maradona, he has not brought the World Cup home to Argentina. Nor should a reminder be necessary that Pele and Garrincha claimed that holy grail multiple times for Brazil.
It is debatable if Messi is the best player of his generation, given Cristiano Ronaldo’s career
It has been a delight to admire Messi’s intricate skills, mesmerising imagination, dazzling artistry and brilliantly conceived ways of scoring.
Yet it is highly debatable whether he is even the finest player of his generation. Not while Cristiano Ronaldo’s athletic power sourced from his narcissistic dedication to supreme fitness continues to deliver longevity and even more, wondrous goals into his 30s.
Which makes it all the more intriguing to wonder exactly what Barcelona’s new manager Ronald Koeman was referring to when he told Messi that his ‘days of privileges were over.’
New Barca manager Ronald Koeman reportedly told Messi his ‘days of privileges were over’
Could it have been plotting for regime change at the Nou Camp, expecting to hand-pick his preferred coach, the right to choose Barcelona’s transfer targets and then advise on their selection in a team of his favourites?
Or did Koeman’s hint about the need for him to ‘play for the team’ amount to a doubt about his work ethic?
Never mind eye-watering, finding out could be disembowellingly expensive for Manchester City.