PARIS: There was a time when a reunion between Lionel Messi (Photo) and Pep Guardiola seemed entirely possible, but on Tuesday they will face each other again when Paris Saint-Germain face Manchester City in the Champions League.
Without Jack Grealish things might have turned out differently.
City announced the £ 100million (RM 573million) signing of Grealish from Aston Villa on August 5, the same day Barcelona revealed Messi will not be staying at Camp Nou.
A year ago, when Messi tried to force his departure from Catalonia, City emerged as the most likely destination.
Eventually Barcelona blocked the six-time Ballon d’Or winner from leaving and 12 months later Messi was ready to stay put until it became clear that the financial mess at Camp Nou meant he couldn’t not.
If City had planned for Messi to become available, they might have moved for him. But instead, they focused on Grealish and tried to sign Harry Kane, a move that ultimately didn’t happen.
“Right now it’s not on our minds,” Guardiola said when asked if City could move for Messi.
It says a lot about the modern game that PSG were the only other realistic destination for the 34-year-old Guardiola has described as the greatest player of all time.
Messi has only played three games for his new club and has yet to score. He missed PSG’s last two games with a knee problem, but the feeling is that Mauricio Pochettino saved him for City.
After being held to a 1-1 draw by Club Brugge in their opener, PSG need a positive result against City to prevent their rivals from taking control of their Champions League group.
Messi will want to open his account in Paris on such an occasion, and Guardiola has already been the target of Argentine genius in Europe.
After Guardiola left Barcelona in 2012 at the end of four glorious years in which he oversaw Messi’s transition from superstar-to-be to the best in the world, he faced his former club for the first time in the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2015.
Barcelona beat Guardiola’s Bayern 5-3 on aggregate before winning the trophy. Messi produced a sublime performance to score two late goals in a 3-0 first leg win at Camp Nou that effectively killed the tie.
The only other time the duo faced each other was in the group stage in 2016, just after Guardiola’s arrival at City.
Messi scored a hat-trick as Barca won 4-0 at Camp Nou and he then gave Manchester the lead, but City won 3-1.
This time City and PSG are expected to advance in their squad and both men are desperate to win the Champions League again – the last of Messi’s four titles arrived in 2015, while Guardiola did not. hasn’t lifted the trophy since Messi inspired Barcelona to a 3-1 victory over Manchester United in the 2011 final.
As the world waits to see how Messi’s move to Paris unfolds, Guardiola continues to regret the absence of a prolific center-forward as the final piece of his puzzle at City.
It was evident on Saturday when, despite all their chances, they were limited to just one goal from Gabriel Jesus in a 1-0 win at Chelsea.
Before that, Guardiola had expressed regret at City’s lack of “weapon” up front.
“The club need a striker in the next few years. When it’s not possible, it’s not possible, we continue with the fantastic team that we have, ”he said.
PSG, of course, have more than one such player. Kylian Mbappe has been France’s top scorer in each of the past three seasons.
Messi left Barcelona as the all-time top scorer with 672 goals in 778 appearances.
His peak at Camp Nou came during Guardiola’s last season, in 2011-12, when he scored an incredible 73 goals.
No one knows Messi’s game better than Guardiola, but no one knows better than Pep that there is no way to stop Messi when he is at the top of his game. – AFP