Lionel Messi can join only Manchester City: Neil Humphreys
Of all the candidates, Guardiola's men look the best option
Lionel Messi's decision to leave Barcelona is off the Richter scale. The aftershocks are already being felt across the game.
Suddenly, a new home must be found for the greatest human being to ever kick a round object, but where does he go? This is unchartered territory for all of us.
Money, location, squad depth and even Argentina's World Cup 2022 preparations will all play a part in Messi's decision, but there has always been one constant in his stellar career. He still covets the Champions League.
If that's the case, then the 33-year-old has the following options …
1) CHAMPIONS FOR A CHAMPION?
The greatest footballer joining the greatest club seems like a match made in the Allianz Arena. But Bayern Munich's Champions League-winning formula does not cater to an ageing maverick conserving his energy.
Bayern's 4-2-3-1 relies on wide players - from Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich at the back to Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry up front - outrunning their opposition at both ends.
Messi doesn't really defend. Why should he? In the Champions League final, the Bayern player most like a creative fulcrum roaming around the box was Thomas Mueller.
Messi and Mueller are poles apart, rather like their playing styles. A sparkling square peg in a flawless round hole still doesn't fit.
Chances of Messi joining Bayern:
There's more chance of Mueller joining Barcelona.
2) THE FRENCH CONNECTION
After losing the Champions League final, Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel stated the obvious. Who wouldn't want Lionel Messi? Of course he would.
A manager that cannot accommodate Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria in the same side should resign immediately.
PSG's owner, Qatar Sports Investments, bought the club with the intention of winning the Champions League .
Money is no object, which would be handy if the demands of the 700 million-euro buy-out clause in Messi's contract must be seriously met. PSG didn't baulk at spending 222m euros on Neymar. What's 700m euros (S$1.13 billion) among friendly oligarchs looking for a bit of sportswashing before the Qatar World Cup?
But Neymar was almost a decade younger than Messi when he headed to Paris and wouldn't be keen on sharing the limelight again.
Besides, the prospect of playing in a one-club league hardly appeals to Messi as he seeks to maintain his highest levels before his final World Cup.
Chances of Messi joining PSG:
Slim. The Parisians can guarantee his salary demands, but not his trophy demands.
3) THE ITALIAN JOB?
Of all the elite clubs, Inter Milan have been the least subtle in their flirtatious eye-fluttering.
Their Chinese owners, Suning Holdings Group, are arguably less interested in the Serie A title than they are in capturing hundreds of millions of eyeballs back home.
Only Messi can do that.
However, the world's greatest player isn't an Antonio Conte player.
The Inter coach favours well-drilled, defensive line-ups. Messi hasn't tracked back for years. He certainly won't help out at corners as his 34th birthday approaches.
The other Italian option, Juventus, offers the giddy prospect of pairing Messi with Cristiano Ronaldo. But Ronaldo's annual earnings are £28m (S$50m). Messi picks up £90m a year at Barcelona (he controls his image rights). The Old Lady of Turin has only the resources for one old man of obscene wealth.
Chances of Messi going to Italy:
About the same as Ronaldo giving one of his Ballon d'or trophies to Messi
4) THERE'S ONLY ONE TEAM IN ENGLAND
Four English teams could conceivably afford Messi's wages - Liverpool, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs.
The Reds' outstanding recruitment policy - spotting younger players just before their careers ride the crest of a wave - doesn't tally with paying a 33-year-old almost £100m a year.
Messi's genius would be a fabulous luxury item, if not a natural fit for Juergen Klopp's gegenpressing.
Manchester United boast the global reach, but not quite the prestigious squad or manager needed to entice Messi.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has long professed his admiration for the Argentine, but the Blues are in transition.
Messi doesn't have time to babysit a developing side. Only Manchester City tick every box. Their wealth, global ambition, squad depth, playing philosophy and enigmatic manager all appeal.
David Silva has left so an obvious vacancy exists, too.
A couple of years ago, Pep Guardiola was asked if a certain City footballer was the best he'd ever worked with. Guardiola's look of incredulity was priceless.
He had to remind the interviewer that he had worked with Messi. There is no other.
And like Lennon and McCartney, there is no other creative relationship like Messi and Guardiola in football.
As they demonstrated so beautifully at Barcelona, their Champions League journey can only be taken together.
Chances of Messi going to City:
He either reunites with Guardiola or spends the rest of his career battling Barcelona in court. It's that simple.