Could Messi ‘cut the mustard’ in the Premier League?

Over the years, the English top flight has seen some of the best players in football. Players like Henry, Cantona, Shearer and Bergkamp, to name a few. But when we mention the World’s best players, we think of players like Maradona, Johan Cruyff and Pele, who were terrific footballers with such skill and elegance that they were and still are renowned around the footballing world. These three players, and many others not mentioned all had one thing in common. They had never played in Britain. At the time, the Premier League was not seen as the best league in the World. However, nowadays it is. Another name recently joining the list of the World’s elite footballers is Lionel Messi. All of us know of Messi’s incredible footballing talent. He has been described as a ‘magician’ on the field, a master of his surroundings; he knows exactly where his team mates are without even looking up. He has also been labelled as the ‘New Maradona’, which he considers a blessing, as Maradona was one of his idols whilst growing up playing football. Despite faultless and immaculate skill, many people still ask the question, could Messi cut it in the Premier League?

Messi started his career at the age of eleven, with the Barcelona youth set up. He quickly progressed through youth team, and broke into the Barcelona B side, who play in the second tier of Spanish football, scoring 6 goals in 17 matches. He was just 17 years and 114 days old when Messi broke into the first team, with then manager Frank Rijkaard giving him the starting spot against RCD Espanyol in 2004. He is forever grateful to Frank Rijkaard, and is quoted saying, “Rijkaard is a great coach – I’ll never forget the fact that he launched my career, that he had confidence in me while I was only sixteen or seventeen.” From the first time we saw Messi, many of us knew he was something special. He is brilliant beyond belief at times, and has grown as a footballer since his young start at Barcelona. He has scored goals that have left fans astounded. In the Semi –finals of the Champions League in 2011, Messi scored one of his best ever goals against fierce rivals Real Madrid, on their own turf. He picked the ball up 40 yards from goal, and with the ball sticking to his feet with every touch, he drove into the box skipping past five bemused Real Madrid players and placed the ball into the corner of the net with such style and panache, that the Real Madrid fans applauded his efforts. Many of his goals are scored in such a cool, casual way that he makes it look easy. In the Champions League final in 2011, Messi scored a goal, which will remain my favourite Messi goal for years to come. We are so used to seeing the Argentinian picking up the ball and dribbling through players, scoring with a stylish finish in matches. Nevertheless, this particular goal was special, because it was so different. Xavi played a tantalising cross into the box, ever so slightly behind Messi, who was already in the air. Lionel adjusted his body in mid-air to a mere impossible angle and got enough power on his header to beat Van Der Saar in goal and win the Champions League for Barcelona.

Messi is undoubtedly one of, if not the greatest player in footballing history. Yet, the question that is asked by so many remains the same, could he be this good in the Premier League? La Liga, the top division in Spain, is one that attracts many viewers each season. It is notorious for its composed, flowing football which entertains spectators. Many clubs in Spain have adopted a certain style of play, including Barcelona and Real Madrid. We see these teams playing a calm passing game, spreading the ball around the park, trying to create an opening. It is a patient kind of football, which many have different opinions on. Some find it to be the correct way to play football, while others disagree and claim that particular style of play to be ‘boring’. In contrast, when we look at the style of football in Britain, it is very different. Although some teams have tried to develop the same style of play Barcelona have incorporated throughout the years, many teams have a dissimilar approach to football. Many see British football as ‘rough and ready’, and teams like Stoke City who employ almost bullish, yet fair tactics, epitomise how the style of football differs. Many ‘hard-men’ footballers have careers in Britain, but are rarely seen in other countries. Players like Graeme Souness, Roy Keane and Duncan Ferguson, all played in Britain, and suited the style of football played.

With this difference in the two countries approach to football, would Messi be able to handle the difference? Of course, many players have to change for life in the Premier League, but would a player of Messi’s calibre be able to adjust and still continue being the player we all know and cherish watching? Would the rough and tough tactics of clubs like Stoke, hinder his personal success? These are all difficult questions to answer. Messi has played against many British clubs over the years, but has only scored 8 goals against British opposition in European competition, which is a pretty low number, given his hefty list of Champions League goals. He has also never scored against Chelsea and Rangers in European competition. This statistic suggests that he may struggle against British opposition.

Although many wonder if Messi could continue to be the same player he is at the moment in Britain, many answer this question by looking at a similar player, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo played for Manchester United between 2003 and 2009. He established himself as one of the greatest players in not just the Premier League, but also in the World. He played at Manchester United week in week out against a variety of different teams, who employed different tactics. He enjoyed a career in England filled with success for him and his team mates, winning 3 Premier League trophies, 1 FA Cup and a Champions League winners medal. Since then he has moved to Real Madrid, and has been heavily compared to Lionel Messi by the Media. When we look at Ronaldo’s achievements in Britain, surely a player of similar, if not better quality could perform well and be successful too?

Messi would be as good a player, if not better, if he were to play in the Premiership. He is of such quality and intelligence on the football pitch that he could work his magic anywhere in the World. He is one of a kind; he has been commended and praised by so many that words to describe his brilliance are running out. On the contrary, I don’t believe Messi will ever leave Barcelona. He is a loyal figure, and loves the club that made him the player he is today. He has been quoted saying that he will ‘never leave Barcelona’ and that his love for the club overpowers any amount of money that is thrown his way. Ultimately, this means the question, could Messi cut it in the Premier League, will remain unanswered for years to come.

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