Lionel Messi's Future Played Out Through the Eyes of Football Manager 2020

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi has requested his release from Barcelona | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It's been a funny old week.

The 2019/20 season was completed after approximately 6,371 days of continuous post-lockdown football, Bayern Munich reigned supreme in the Champions League, and Chelsea continued to defy worldwide financial logic by throwing a five-year, £190,000-per-week contract at Ben Chilwell.

But most shockingly of all, Dillian White was smashed into the middle of next week by Russian brute Alexander Povetkin, meaning any hopes of a rematch with another big boy, Anthony Joshua, are almost certainly dead in the water.

Awkward Peace Out GIF by swerk - Find & Share on GIPHY

Oh, wait, that's not actually the story of the week, is it? Course it's bloody not, that honour goes to the one, the only, Hulk Hooooo...Lionel Messi!

Yes, Lionel Messi of Barcelona - you know, the one who's been the greatest footballer - probably -on the planet for the past 15 years. Turns out old Lionel is sick to death of things going wrong in Catalonia, and it's fair to say that he wasn't amused by the 8-2 pumping given to Barça by Bayern in their recent Champions League quarter-final clash.

He's now done the unthinkable, asking the club to invoke a clause in his contract that allows him to walk away for free. A legal wrangle is undoubtedly on the horizon - that or Josep Maria Bartomeu walks away as president and we forget this ever happened - but for now we get the fun of linking him with moves to anywhere under the sun.

Lionel Messi
Messi saw Bayern crush his Champions League dreams in Lisbon | Pool/Getty Images

So, being the Football Manager 2020 nerds that we are at 90min, simming Messi's next career moves seemed the most logical thing to do. Without any further ado, here's how he got on both at Manchester clubs, as well as at Juventus - where he linked up with some dude called Cristiano Ronaldo.

Messi at Juventus

Just imagine a world where Messi actually joins forces with Ronaldo.

Twitter may actually break forever, Serie A would instantly be more popular than any other league in any other sport, and we'd actually get some comparables to dissect rather than 15 years of pointless bickering over who's better.

In this Football Manager world though, none of that happens. I press a button, plonk Messi in Turin and we're away. First - and only - objective: win the Champions League.

Right, not going to plan then. Season one in Serie A ends with a league title - naturally - but Juve's run in the Champions League is brought to a shuddering halt at the quarter-final stage by Manchester United.

Another Serie A success for 'Zebre', but no Champions League joy
Another Serie A success for 'Zebre', but no Champions League joy
Messi 1-0 Ronaldo
Messi 1-0 Ronaldo

Still, Messi and Ronaldo share the spoils on 16 league goals and Messi finishes the season ahead of CR7 on highest average rating. So he's better. Fact.

A contract extension through to the summer of 2022 is penned, but Messi's second season actually delivers the unthinkable; Juventus lose their grip on Serie A.

Napoli are the team to go rogue, stealing La Vecchia Signora's thunder by steaming to the title. As for Messi, his season is disrupted by injury - but in the 22 league games he does play, he scores 13 goals, assists another 11 and is named man of the match 11 times, averaging 8.20. Quite ridiculous.

A superb individual season for Messi - but no Champions League glory
A superb individual season for Messi - but no Champions League glory

The one thing that really matters is the Champions League, but that dream also falls by the wayside as Juve are knocked out at the semi-final stage by Liverpool.

For reasons that will become apparent later on this article, we push on for a third season at the club - yep, he signed another one-year deal - and see whether or not Juventus can pull their finger out and deliver the goods for Leo and Cristiano.

*SPOILER* they can't.

A move to Juventus isn't the one for Messi - though he does continually outshine Ronaldo
A move to Juventus isn't the one for Messi - though he does continually outshine Ronaldo

Zebre - what I should actually be calling the club if we're going to be accurate - nosedive to third in Serie A, and only make it to the quarter-final stage before Bayern do the dirty and dump them out of the competition.

Mission aborted in Italy, but we must acknowledge that Messi was again the standout performer of the side. Food for thought, eh.

Messi at Man Utd

Okay, so a move to Juventus hasn't actually been touted - doubt CR7 would like the idea of that - but a move to Manchester United has been, because of course it has.

So we made that pipe dream become a reality, again whisking Messi away from Catalonia on the final day of August 2020 to head to pastures new.

Messi was still trousering a lovely little wage at United.
Messi was still trousering a lovely little wage at United.

With his pockets still being filled handsomely, Messi sought about getting United challenging for the Premier League title, that all important Champions League and proving that he could cut it in another country.

Did he succeed? Well, he didn't win anything straight off - in fact, United were the bridesmaids in the Super Cup final, which they'd earned through a mythical Europa League success during 2019/20 (sorry, the game is a year behind, what can you do?).

But what he did do was prove to be the most consistent player in England, picking up an average rating of 8.02 in the Premier League, while being named man of the match 13 times. Bayern were again his nemesis in Europe - knocking United out of the Champions League in the last 16 - and Liverpool tore the Premier League a new one, winning the title by 18 points from...oh, United.

No Champions League glory in Messi's first season at United.
No Champions League glory in Messi's first season at United.

Messi is rewarded with a new one-year deal, but his second season at Old Trafford unfortunately fails to deliver the goods again. Progress is made in the Champions League though, with Liverpool knocking the Red Devils out at the semi-final stage.

The highest average rating in the Premier League is again an honour that bestows Messi, but United finish a distant fifth in the Premier League - missing out on Champions League qualification for 2022/23!

It's not all doom and gloom though, because 12 months later, United win the Premier League - ending their decade-long quest for a 14th title and first since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure. Messi is still a regular feature in the side, even though he's really knocking on now, taking up residency in central midfield.

Messi was a Premier League winner by the end of the 2022/23 season.
Messi was a Premier League winner by the end of the 2022/23 season.

Meanwhile, over in Barcelona...

Lionel Messi No GIF by adidas - Find & Share on GIPHY

Messi at Man City

Three years at Manchester United couldn't deliver Champions League glory either, so what about at noisy neighbours City.

Again, we operate those sliding doors and drop Messi off in Manchester - this time to reunite with old bosom buddy Pep Guardiola. Almost inevitably, his first season at the club is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and he helps fire City to yet another Premier League title, as well as scooping up the FA Cup and McDonalds - go on then, I'll have a quarter pounder - Community Shield.

But does he win the Champions League at the first time of asking? No, no he doesn't - City instead finish runners up to bloody Bayern. Yes, them again.

Not a bad first season at City
Not a bad first season at City
Individually, Messi was pretty tasty too
Individually, Messi was pretty tasty too

Season two at the Etihad delivers City's fifth consecutive Premier League title, but there's actually very little else to shout about. Messi is the Premier League's best performer - averaging 7.90 - but the thing that he really cares about ends in disaster.

Yup, you guessed it (or did you?), Barcelona are the team to knock the Citizens out - unforgivably at the last 16 stage. Pep keeps his job, and Messi extends by another 12 months, hoping that it will be third time lucky.

And wouldn't you know it, Messi strikes gold - United may steal the Premier League title away, but nobody cares about that. City, after spending £16,375,910,525 (roughly) WIN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE - and Leo looks pretty pleased about it in his post-match interview...

Champions League joy for Messi and Man City in 2023
Champions League joy for Messi and Man City in 2023
Lionel Messi Deal With It GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Nice one, Leo - you wonderful, wonderful man who has lots of wonderful, wonderful dogs.

For more from Toby Cudworth, follow him on Twitter!