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Pep Guardiola is Man City's trump card if Messi leaves Barcelona

By Ian Herbert

Published 23/03/2016

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi will play at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin
Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi will play at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

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 Barca 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 of 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 aren't actively awaiting a change of heart. Instead, they are looking for the next player of his calibre.

Barca, meanwhile, will face Celtic in Dublin's Aviva Stadium on Saturday, July 30 as part of the International Champions Cup. It is, however, understood that the Spanish giants' clash with Liverpool on August 6 will be staged elsewhere in Europe.

Irish fans hoping to see Barcelona's marquee names could, however, be disappointed.

Neymar will be unavailable because of his commitment to Brazil's Olympic side, while the participation of Messi and Luis Suarez may well depend on the success or otherwise of Argentina and Uruguay in their Copa America campaigns this summer.

The competition takes place in the USA from June 3-26 and Messi and Suarez could just be returning from summer breaks when Dublin comes around.

THE FA Cup quarter-final replay between Manchester United and West Ham will be played at Upton Park on Wednesday, April 13.

Belfast Telegraph

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