By Preye Campbell
Each day, we wake up to the prospect of Lionel Messi saying goodbye to Barcelona.
With Messi, it seems hard to imagine him leave, given that we are talking about a player who has forever been in a Barcelona shirt; a player who has contributed 638 goals and 195 assists in 850 games. But such imagination is starting to look a bit like reality now as rumours about a reunion with Pep Guardiola continue to control the airwaves.
Messi is arguably the best player in the history of the game. But he may now have to take that title outside the Camp Nou fortress. With that, there is a list of candidates who could possibly replace the Argentine at Barca, should he call it quits with last season’s La Liga runners-up.
Certainly, no replacement will be adequate for Messi. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner is simply unparalleled in the game. But these ten candidates may add something to an ailing Barcelona team.
Barcelona may have finally had a concrete reason to re-sign Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar Jr after all. Neymar left Barcelona in an unceremonious fashion for PSG in 2017. the Brazilian was part of a boisterous Barcelona triumvirate that included Messi and Luiz Suarez. And together, they won several honors at Barca, including the UEFA Champions League in 2015- which coincidentally, is the last time Barca have won the Champions League.
Since making the move to PSG, Neymar and Barca have not really been on top of their game in recent years, with the former missing out on Champions League glory in August. Neymar’s desire to become the main man at Barcelona could finally come to life. But there is the notion that even Neymar will not like to come to this present Barca team. He is still very close friends with Messi and might wish to play with him again, not against him. Besides, Neymar is close to 30 and may not represent an ideal futuristic target for the Barca board.
Sadio Mane’s dazzling performances for English champions Liverpool have continually seen him linked with Barcelona. In the last two seasons, Mane has won the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and the Premier League for Jurgen Klopp’s men. A move could happen but it is sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to drag a player out of a club where he has a better manager and a better team. Besides, Barcelona won’t get away with such transfer without spending huge.
Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez has been on Barca’s radar all season. The 23-year-old scored 21 times for the Nerazzurri club last season. He was seen as an ideal replacement for Luiz Suarez. A deal could happen quickly now though, with Barca in great danger of losing their finest player.
Jadon Sancho will represent a long-term target for Barcelona, should they make a move. The 20-year-old England international had a season to remember with German side Borussia Dortmund, providing 17 goals and 16 assists in the Bundesliga. Although Sancho represents a target for Manchester United, Barca could swoop in for the €120 million valued winger, especially as Messi seems to be losing patience.
Raheem Sterling could actually be involved in a swap deal with Messi, as Manchester City seek to get their hands on football’s prized asset. Sterling was in good form for City last season, notching 20 goals in the Premier League. It is unclear whether manager Pep Guardiola will be willing to entertain this deal, but that one in a million chance to sign Messi may just be too good to ignore.
France’s golden boy is never far away from a transfer rumour. Such has been the imperious form of Kylian Mbappe since he burst through the football scene with AS Monaco of France in 2017. Mbappe has continued to shine with PSG and appeared in his first-ever Champions League final. PSG have no intention to sell Mbappe but if Barca proposes a swap deal, it might be an excellent deal for both sides.
Barca could decide to stick with unsettled pair Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele for their attack next season. As such, the focus may be on replacing Messi with an out and out striker. This is where Harry Kane fits the bill. The Tottenham Hotspur and England striker is widely regarded as one of the best forwards in the game. An injury-ravaged campaign saw Kane score 18 times in 29 games for Spurs. At 27, the Premier League Golden Boot winner still has time on his side, and he has reportedly been on the lookout for a new challenge.
At 31, Gabonese superstar, Aubameyang will represent nothing more than a short-term deal. But of the players on this list, his could represent a quick transfer. The Arsenal captain and a one-time Premier League golden boot winner is still yet to agree to fresh terms with the Gunners.
Former Manchester United flop Memphis Depay could very well be on Barcelona’s radar. Depay failed to impress in England with United and made the switch to Lyon, where he has since rediscovered the form that made him a sought after player at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven. New Barca manager Ronald Koeman worked with Depay at the Netherlands national team and could be interested in him at club level.
On the back of an impressive season that saw him crowned the Serie A Most Valuable Player, Paulo Dybala is once again in Barca’s sights. Messi’s replacement may as well come from a fellow countryman. But any fee for Dybala will definitely attract a mammoth fee.
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