One conclusion can be drawn from Thursday’s news about Pep Guardiola. Lionel Messi to Manchester City. This time it is really happening.
Maybe in January, more likely next summer. Undeniably, though, the most logical motivation for Guardiola tying himself to the club until 2023 is the guarantee of this reunion.
The greatest player with the greatest coach. Both titles subjective and hotly disputed but, honestly, who wouldn’t pay to see that?
Pep Guardiola’s new two-year deal points towards Lionel Messi coming to Manchester City
If Messi is coming to the Premier League, even at the age of 34 as he will be in June, it is box office. And for Guardiola, too, plainly.
Who wouldn’t want to find out what they can achieve in the English game? Who wouldn’t want to work again with such a talent? Just as Guardiola to Manchester City was known long before realisation, so Messi’s arrival has been clearly signposted.
This has been the strategy for close to a decade. This has been on the agenda since Barcelona man Ferran Soriano was appointed chief executive officer at Manchester City. One by one, they have all arrived since.
Txiki Begiristain as director of football, Manuel Pellegrini to keep the manager’s seat warm, Guardiola — and now the cherry on top.
Ferran Soriano (L) and Txiki Begiristain (R) are trying to get the Barcelona band back together
The band is back together; or it soon will be. Messi has always been the target but only now is he attainable.
There was a time when it did not look the smartest move. Messi and the modern Barcelona were inseparable. Any transfer would represent his second-best life. His preference would always be Catalonia and the club that has nurtured him since the age of 13.
Yet that relationship has soured. Clearly, Messi would have left last summer if he could have and the sight of him returning to Barcelona from international duty this week to be met at the airport by tax investigators was a study in disillusionment.
‘I’m a little tired of always being the problem for everything at the club,’ Messi told reporters in response to accusations from Antoine Griezmann’s former agent, Eric Olhats, that he enjoys a ‘reign of terror’.
Barcelona are eighth in LaLiga and all but one of Messi’s six goals this season have come from the penalty spot. Certainly, Manchester City would not be buying a player at his peak.
They may, however, be buying one with a point to prove, who is no longer hankering for the Nou Camp and could receive a fillip from being reunited with Guardiola.
And undoubtedly his former coach has ego enough to believe he is the man who could spark Messi in the Premier League, too.
That would be the challenge of his next two years at Manchester City: a revived Messi spearheading an assault on the biggest domestic and European prizes.
Messi still seems disillusioned and was again unhappy whilst on international duty this week
If we find it a compelling narrative, one imagines Guardiola does, too. Maybe he also seeks the answer to that question about Burnley on a wet Tuesday night.
Some will think the move should be reversed; that Barcelona is Guardiola’s spiritual home and the re-acquaintance with Messi should have been achieved by returning to Spain, but he doesn’t agree.
Asked about a homecoming recently, Guardiola said: ‘My period as manager in Barcelona is over. I will come back to my seats to see my club, by watching a game.’
And he’s right. What business remains there? It’s different at City, not least with Messi. So many questions unanswered, so many riddles to solve. It is thought Guardiola has looked jaded in recent weeks but he was all smiles as he signed his new contract.
After all, who wouldn’t stick around to see how this pans out?
BOOT FOR COOTE IS SIGN OF THE TIMES… PEARCE’S BROTHER WAS A LINESMAN!
Stuart Pearce was talking about his family connections with sport. He mentioned that his older brother, Ray, was a linesman at senior level — and that he ran the line when Pearce played for Nottingham Forest against Brighton in the League Cup.
September 1986, before the advent of social media. The game finished goalless, Forest won the replay 3-0.
‘I had no fears about Ray’s honesty,’ wrote Pearce in his autobiography.
‘He would err on the side of Brighton rather than favour me. No one knew, apart from the Forest team. It was funny running up the wing and having my brother alongside me. He could have got me booked because I kept taking the mickey out of him. I called him a “ginger d***head”.’
Match reports from the time did not reveal the secret, nor did the commentary on Midweek Sports Special. Yet imagine if that were now.
In a world awash with online gossip, how long before Ray Pearce’s family ties were uncovered, and then his position became close to untenable? Not just any match involving Stuart, but any match in which Stuart’s team could benefit.
He might not even have been allowed to referee a game in the same league as his brother. Integrity and honesty are no longer presumed. And it could be argued this is the better way. That rigorous scrutiny ensures the highest standards.
David Coote was named VAR for Liverpool vs Leicester but was then removed from the game
Yet, does it? This week, it was announced that David Coote would be on VAR duty for Liverpool’s match against Leicester on Sunday. Immediately, a social media backlash resulted. Coote was VAR for the Merseyside derby, and failed to notice Jordan Pickford’s dangerous tackle on Virgil van Dijk.
Soon after, Coote was removed from the game and given the job of refereeing Manchester United’s match against West Bromwich Albion. The VAR for Anfield is now Andre Marriner. What a timely coincidence. The official explanation is the catch-all ‘operational reasons’.
Perhaps it was decided that given the focus on his past performance, there would simply be too much pressure on Coote as VAR, and it could subconsciously influence judgments.
There is certainly a case for that. Even so, it feels as if intemperate outbursts on social media have been allowed to affect the appointment of officials; as if Liverpool get to choose their ref. Strangely, the age when a man could make offside calls for or against his own brother seems healthier.
SOUTHGATE IS A TRUE GENTLEMAN
Gareth Southgate is one of the most personable fellows in football. When he visits clubs on scouting missions, he doesn’t have a car waiting for a quick departure 15 minutes before time like some England managers. He sticks around, he talks, he has a cup of tea.
So when he discovered he had Covid-19, one would imagine, as a gentleman, he contacted everyone he met to inform them of this news. Piers Morgan is angry that having spent time in conversation at a GQ event in the days before his positive test, Southgate did not get in touch.
It seems an unfortunate oversight, but Southgate is certainly not by nature rude or reckless.
Piers, maybe you just weren’t that memorable, mate?
CYNICS MAY LOOK TWICE AT GILL STAYING ON AS UEFA VICE-PRESIDENT
David Gill has agreed to stay on as UEFA vice-president for another four years, which is portrayed as good news for the British and Irish bid for the 2030 World Cup.
One cannot help but think it is also good news for those establishment clubs such as Manchester United that wanted Manchester City banished from elite competition over Financial Fair Play; particularly as his treasurer role places him particularly close to UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin over matters of finance.
David Gill (pic right, with Sir Alex Ferguson) has agreed to stay on as UEFA vice-president
A cynic might say, it is almost as if his mission was complete and then something changed, meaning he feels a continued need to remain networking in the corridors and offices of power. Whatever might it be?
ENGLAND TO END TEST SUMMER UP NORTH – WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
England’s five-Test series against India will reach its climax next summer at Old Trafford, Manchester, between September 10 and 14.
Average mean temperature 57.2C (London 60.3), average mean precipitation 71.5millimetres (London 49.1), average number of days precipitation 11.1 (London 8.1).
What could possibly go wrong?
SOUTHGATE NOW FACES HARDEST PART OF ENGLAND REIGN
When Gareth Southgate took the England job, little was expected. By common consent he made the national team better, changed the mood to one of positivity, achieved landmark results and extracted stronger performances than previous managers.
Now comes the hardest part. England have developed a very exciting group of young players, and Southgate is expected to get the best from them.
That doesn’t necessarily mean winning tournaments, but it does mean playing good football. Any manager who can call on Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho should never play dull.
That is Southgate’s challenge from here.
England manager Gareth Southgate is now expected to get the best out of his young players
FIRST CELEBRITY FOOTBALL AGENT ERIC HALL WAS MONSTER FUN
Eric Hall, the first celebrity football agent, died this week, aged 73.
He had a colourful life. He launched the careers of Queen and Cockney Rebel, was mates with Marc Bolan, booked the Sex Pistols on Bill Grundy’s show, then moved into the management of football players after a chance meeting with Steve Perryman.
One of his little-known jobs was as compere for the Saturday night karaoke session at Scribes West, the private members’ club owned by Terry Venables. Terry would often get down there straight from scouting duty with England and, one early evening, he found himself alone at the bar, apart from one guest.
They started talking, convivially at first, but then the subject turned to Arsenal and the gentleman began to get quite agitated. Venables had turned them down, both as a player and coach.
He wanted to know why. Venables tried to laugh it off. The man wouldn’t let it lie; now it was getting quite tense. Nick, the barman, interrupted, calling Venables away. ‘Be careful,’ he said. ‘You know who that is?’ Venables did not. ‘It’s “Mad” Frankie Fraser,’ Nick explained.
He knew him from old. ‘He’s OK now, but he can turn, just be warned.’ Nick was nothing if not prescient. Fraser was given an ASBO at the age of 90, a year prior to his death in 2014.
Eric arrived later that night, ready for his stint behind the microphone. He would often go around the room, introducing any famous faces in the crowd. Fraser was by now with his party at dinner.
Eric Hall, the first celebrity football agent who had a colourful life, died this week, aged 73
All was calm. Venables made Eric aware of the need for diplomacy. Eric was effusively understanding. Of course, he wouldn’t mention him. Monster, monster tactful. Monster, monster sensitive.
So, Eric stood up and, after a brief preamble, went straight to his famous faces routine. Top of his list… ‘At table nine, we have “Mad” Frankie Fraser. He’ll be treating us to a personal medley.
First up, a big No 1 for Elton John and Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking Your Legs”. He’ll follow it with that old standard, “You Only Hurt The One You Love — And Everybody Else”. And finally a monster, monster hit and a monster favourite of Frankie’s — “If I Had A Hammer”.’ It was like the moment a stranger walks into the bar in Dodge City.
The piano stopped. The room started laughing. Monster fun, Eric was. Monster fearless, too.
HAMILTON SHOULD NOT BE PUNISHED FOR MURRAY’S STANCE
It would appear Sir Andy Murray has messed up Lewis Hamilton’s chance of being knighted before his grand prix career is done. One of the reasons there is resistance to bestowing the honour is that Murray was knighted in 2017, yet does not use the title in his professional career. This is seen as a snub.
And whose fault is that? Murray always insisted he would feel uncomfortable as a knight playing tennis, that he felt he was too young and that he wouldn’t wish to be announced as ‘Sir Andy Murray’ when he played in tournaments. His preference was to be recognised after he had finished playing.
This then became a row along the lines of ‘unpatriotic, miserable Jock snubs our lovely Queen’ and it was pointed out the recipient didn’t set the timing, and those who refused were unlikely to get asked again.
So Murray accepted, while remaining true to his word that he would not use the title on court. No umpire has ever been forced to say ‘Advantage, Sir Andrew’, and rightly so.
Perhaps Hamilton would feel differently. Maybe he would embrace the idea of ‘Sir Lewis’ haughtily lining up on the grid beside plain old Sebastian Vettel. It does seem rather churlish, however, to punish him for Murray’s stance.
Not least because while it is the country’s honour to give, surely it is the recipient’s to use, or not, as he sees fit.
Andy Murray does not use ‘Sir’ in his pro career – but that should not punish Lewis Hamilton
LOOK BEYOND FIRST IMPRESSIONS WITH VENKY’S AT BLACKBURN
There was a time when Venky’s was the byword for incompetent modern ownership, their stewardship of Blackburn held up as an example of wastefulness and neglect.
As it stands, 10 years on, Blackburn are secure in the Championship, while nearby Wigan are bottom of League One and Bolton are fighting a drop out of the Football League.
Remarkably, plenty of clubs in Lancashire would trade owners with Blackburn right now.