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    OLIVER HOLT: Sign Lionel Messi and Manchester City would be the hottest ticket in town

    OLIVER HOLT: Sign Lionel Messi and Manchester City will be the hottest ticket in town… the Barcelona superstar would finally turn them from Champions League wannabes into the real deal

    • Lionel Messi is the final piece of the jigsaw that Manchester City started in 2008 
    • The 33-year-old may help the club break their Champions League mental block 
    • City may even become everyone’s favourite team should they snap up Messi 
    • They would be the hottest ticket in town and gatecrash the old boys’ network

    I’ll buy you a diamond ring, my friend, if it makes you feel all right, The Beatles sang. And in their transfer splurges over the last decade and more, Manchester City have bought diamond rings aplenty: David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne have sparkled with beauty and brilliance. 

    There is still one thing that has remained just beyond the club’s grasp in its new incarnation but if they snag Lionel Messi, that will change. Money can’t buy you love. But Messi can.

    If City can make real what once seemed to belong to fantasy and prise Messi from Barcelona’s increasingly clammy clutch, he would be the final piece in the jigsaw they started putting together in 2008, when Sheik Mansour bought the club and began to transform it into one of Europe’s leading sides. If Messi plays for City, it legitimises at a stroke everything they have built. No other player could bestow this but Messi can.

    Sure, City have had our admiration for some time now. The Pep Guardiola teams that won back-to-back Premier League titles in 2018 and 2019 played some of the best football we have ever seen in this country. Sometimes, it was breathtaking. Its ambition and its execution and its technical accomplishment were on a different level to much of what went before. It was a privilege to watch.

    Lionel Messi would be the final piece in the jigsaw Manchester City had started back in 2008

    Sheik Mansour bought the club and began to transform it into one of Europe’s leading sides

    Sheik Mansour bought the club and began to transform it into one of Europe’s leading sides

    It was a privilege to watch Pep Guardiola's teams when they won back-to-back league titles

    It was a privilege to watch Pep Guardiola’s teams when they won back-to-back league titles

    But beyond the club’s own fans, the admiration never quite translated into love. There is a feeling among City supporters, certainly, that for all their success – perhaps because of their success – they have never quite been granted the respect or the status they deserved.

    There is a feeling that what they have achieved has only been recognised begrudgingly. They saw the fervour that greeted Liverpool’s title triumph last season and they felt like outsiders again.

    Some denigrate them still as an ‘oil club’. There are plenty of critics who cannot look past the fact that they are fuelled by the billions of Abu Dhabi and who see state ownership of football clubs as a line that should never have been crossed.

    It puts City, supposedly, at an ideological disadvantage to clubs like Bayern Munich and Juventus. City sense that disdain wherever they turn, both at home and in Uefa’s club elite, which resents City openly as a threat to its gerontocracy. One way for City to crash through the barrier is to win the Champions League but that competition appears to have become a mental block for both the club and Guardiola, who freeze in its headlights.

    The Champions League appears to be a mental block for City but Messi would help break it

    The Champions League appears to be a mental block for City but Messi would help break it

    City would move up a level and the superstar would help them gatecrash the old boys' club

    City would move up a level and the superstar would help them gatecrash the old boys’ club

    The old giants keep winning it, Bayern and Real Madrid and Liverpool and Barcelona. And City stay on the outside, every year their longing a little greater.

    The other way through is Messi. If City have a mental block about the Champions League, having Messi in their side would unblock it. There are bound to be more twists and turns in the saga of his departure from the Nou Camp but his discontent with the club seems to have moved beyond a power play to get rid of the president.

    He wants to leave and he wants to go to City. So buy him, inherit him, haggle for him, instruct lawyers, pay legal fees, do whatever has to be done. Because with Messi, City suddenly become everyone’s favourite team. They move up a level. Some of the football they play should have earned them that kind of affection anyway but with Messi in the side, it would be guaranteed. Everybody loves Messi because he epitomises the beauty of football and with him in their team, everyone would love City, too.

    Messi would enable City to gatecrash the old boys’ network. The walls would come tumbling down. To get him from Barcelona, where everyone thought he would play his whole career, would be the transfer coup of our lifetimes. The best player in the world, perhaps the greatest player there has ever been, at City. It would bring the club the kind of gravitas and kudos and profile that has been denied them until now.

    It seems criminal that Messi has only won Europe’s biggest club prize once since he was 24

    It seems criminal that Messi has only won Europe’s biggest club prize once since he was 24

    Despite everything they have achieved and the way they have achieved it, City are still patronised. They are still treated, by some who do not know their history, as parochial impostors, arrivistes amid the aristocracy. Messi would change that. No more ‘Emptyhad’ jibes with Messi in the team. Those days would be gone. City would be the hottest ticket in town for every match, home and away. They would be the cats who got the cream.

    There is no point pretending that he would be a long-term solution for City. Messi turned 33 earlier this summer. He is, sadly, past the peak of his career. Maybe he has two years left at the top. Maybe three. It doesn’t matter. It’s long enough. It’s long enough to make the difference for City and take them the final step to winning the Champions League. Unlike at Barcelona, City have all the support cast he needs.

    It seems criminal that Messi has only won Europe’s biggest club prize once since he was 24. In some ways, Barcelona wasted his peak years by allowing the club to become more and more dependent upon him and camouflaging their complacency and their failures in recruitment with his genius.

    It is said that he is desperate to add to his tally of Champions League wins and, in City, he has a team that is ready to go. He would not be part of a rebuilding project. City don’t need fixing. They need one final push to convert them from Champions League wannabes into the real deal, a European dynasty. Not many players could flick that switch. But Messi can.

    Maguire is no longer an ordinary guy… he is living in a gilded cage

    Maybe you saw the footage of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez emerging from the restaurant where they had dinner in Barcelona together last week.

    They chose a place where they could go straight from the restaurant into an underground car park and so the first the public and the press saw of them was when they were behind the wheel and pulling away. Two of the most famous players in the world and no trouble and no hassle. Clean getaway.

    It’s the way high-profile footballers have to plan things. Maybe they fancied going to the Burger King near the Placa de Catalunya for old time’s sake. Or because it’s what normal people do. Or because they used to love a Double Whopper when they were kids. But they know they can’t do that any more. They’d get mobbed. They’d get hassle. There would be problems.

    Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi's clean getaway is the way high-profile stars have to plan things

    Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s clean getaway is the way high-profile stars have to plan things

    Those, sadly, are the precautions that most footballers have to take these days. It’s a shame that they can’t lead normal lives and have a few beers and a kebab like they once did.

    So for those people raging about criticism of Harry Maguire for wanting to have a night out with his pals and his fiancee and his sister just like he used to do, I understand their point. It would be lovely if he could mix with other tourists on Mykonos like a normal bloke.

    It suggests he’s a decent, down-to-earth guy because he wanted to. But he’s not a normal bloke. Not any more. He’s the captain of Manchester United. And when the captain of Manchester United goes out on the town on a Greek island late at night and his taxi’s late and other people have had a few and they scent celebrity and money and opportunity, trouble is going to find him.

    Manchester United's Harry Maguire may not have realised it but he is living in a gilded cage

    Manchester United’s Harry Maguire may not have realised it but he is living in a gilded cage

    The details of exactly what happened the evening when Maguire was arrested by police are still sketchy but if there was one thing that was encouraging about the interview he gave to the BBC’s Dan Roan on Thursday, it was that he appears to have learned his lesson. 

    ‘I have always been really open,’ he said. ‘And I have seen a lot of things about security. I didn’t feel the need for that and it’s probably changed my mind on that. In the situation I found myself in, would it have helped? Yeah, for sure.’

    What happened was a reminder of the price players pay for fame and fortune and the sacrifices they have to make. Maguire may not have realised it before but he is living in a gilded cage.

    Just celebrate this great duo 

    The strange campaign to banish Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad from the England team despite the inconvenient fact that they are our best bowlers seems to rest on the dispiriting view that Ashes Tests are now the only thing that matters in cricket and that everything must be planned around them.

    When a bowler comes along who demands inclusion, one of Anderson, who became the first fast bowler to take 600 Test wickets last week, and Broad, who is bowling better than ever, will be moved aside.

    If they’re good enough, they will get their shot. Until then, maybe we should stop being so English by mourning the fact that we have two of the greatest bowlers in history and celebrate them instead.

    We should stop mourning the fact we have two of the greatest bowlers and celebrate them

    We should stop mourning the fact we have two of the greatest bowlers and celebrate them



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