Lionel Messi’s future has been the source of heavy speculation recently as his Paris Saint-Germain contract approaches its final months.
The Argentina legend looks set to leave the reigning Ligue 1 champions at the end of the season and there are several clubs reportedly keen on handing him a chance to extend a trophy-laden career elsewhere.
So we fired up Football Manager and used the world’s most popular management simulation to assess what could lie ahead for the man many consider to be the greatest player of all-time.
The Argentine superstar was used mainly on the right-hand side of a front three also containing Kai Havertz and Raheem Sterling and provided 12 goals in a total of 60 goals scored between the trio. After marking his Blues debut with the second goal in an impressive 2-0 win at Manchester City on the opening day of the Premier League season, Messi only found the net once more in the first two months of the season.
However, a brace in a 3-2 defeat at Brentford in early October kickstarted an improved run of form that saw the former Barcelona star help his side claim hard-earned wins over the likes of Newcastle United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.
Messi scored in both legs of a Carabao Cup semi-final win against Ipswich Town but was unable to prevent his side falling to a final defeat against Manchester City, despite opening the scoring with an early penalty. And any thoughts of silverware were dashed by a shock FA Cup semi-final defeat against Crystal Palace as Cesar Azpilicueta’s missed penalty prevented Chelsea and Messi making a quick return to Wembley.
There was a positive run of form to end their league season as the Blues earned five wins and seven draws in their final seven games to secure third place and a return to the Champions League.
Games played: 56 Goals scored: 12 Assists: 10 Average rating: 7.57 Trophies won: 0
Much like Erling Haaland, Messi fell to a defeat on his City debut as Liverpool claimed a 2-0 win in the Community Shield - and it set the tone for the opening month of the season as Pep Guardiola’s side won just one of their first five league games.
An improved run of form for both Messi and his side brought 14 wins in their next 15 games in all competitions as they progressed in the Champions League and Carabao Cup, as well as moving to the top of the Premier League table. A first piece of silverware was secured in late February when goals from Messi and Phil Foden saw off Newcastle United in the final of the Carabao Cup - but that would prove to be his only success of his maiden season in the Premier League.
A surprise FA Cup semi-final defeat against Brighton and Hove Albion saw Messi’s two goals go to waste and Manchester United inflicted a 4-3 aggregate defeat in the semi-final of the Champions League before losing to Barcelona in the final. And there would be no league title either after City ended the season six points adrift of champions Liverpool despite winning their last five league games.
Games played: 49 Goals scored: 19 Assists: 18 Average rating: 7.53 Trophies won: 1 (Carabao Cup)
So how about an emotional return to Barcelona? Messi made an instant impact on the opening day of the La Liga season as he scored twice in a 3-2 win against Catalan rivals Espanyol and that laid the foundations of a stunning start the campaign.
By the time Barca fell to a 3-2 away defeat in the first Clasico of the season, they had already won 17 of their first 19 games in all competitions, drawing the other two. That pattern continued after Christmas as a Robert Lewandowski hat-trick gave Xavi’s men a 3-0 win in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final against Real Madrid before the Polish striker grabbed the only goal of a final win against Real Betis.
It wasn’t all positive for Messi on his return to the club where he made his name as a shock 1-0 defeat at Sporting Dijon ended Barca’s Copa del Rey run before it had even begun and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City claimed a 3-2 aggregate win over his former employers in the last eight of the Champions League.
There would be further silverware for Messi as Barca eased to the La Liga title with a 12-point advantage on Real Madrid and Real Sociedad - although the Argentina legend missed the final month of the season with a torn hamstring.
Games played: 42 Goals scored: 14 Assists: 14 Average rating: 7.47 Trophies won: 2 (La Liga, Spanish Super Cup)
A stateside linkup with David Beckham’s Inter Miami has been heavily speculated in recent months - and if the virtual world is anything to go by, it could be an interesting move for Messi. After debuting with a goal in a 1-1 draw with Columbus Crew, Messi scored with regularity but was unable to prevent his side falling to a 3-1 aggregate defeat against Philadelphia Union in the NACL semi-final.
FC Cincinnati ended Inter’s US Cup run at the fifth round on a day Messi earned his only red card of the season but there was progress elsewhere as two goals from the Argentina forward gave his side a 2-0 win against Toronto in the MLS Eastern Conference Final - but a 3-2 defeat against LA Galaxy saw Beckham’s former employers lift the MLS Cup.
Messi’s individual achievements stacked up after he was named as the MLS’ most valuable player, Newcomer of the Year and won the Golden Boot.
Games played: 43 Goals scored: 20 Assists: 9 Average rating: 7.58 Trophies won: 1 (MLS Eastern Conference champions)