Football Features

Neymar wants him back, but who’s Lionel Messi’s ideal strike partner outside Barcelona?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 14:46, 6 December 2020

Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, but no player can win it all alone.

Occasionally they can come close, but there’s always others who play a large role even if they aren’t always acknowledged. Messi has had many great strike partners throughout his legendary career that have helped him to great success.

Luis Suárez was the most recent and the pair were parted this summer as the Uruguayan joined Atlético Madrid, but there’s also Neymar. The brilliant Brazilian was Messi’s sidekick for four years between 2013 and 2017 until he left to join PSG.

And recently he’s been quoted as saying: “what I want most is to play with Messi again. I want to play with him. I’ll let him play in my position if he wants! Next year, we have to play together, for sure.”

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Now, in the past that kind of statement would have led to endless rumours about Barcelona re-signing Neymar from PSG. However now the scale of financial devastation that Barcelona are facing because of the mismanagement of the previous board has been laid bare, and given potential new presidents are saying things like “Barça would survive,” should Messi leave, while the player seems to be seriously struggling in front of goal (see below), and of course considering he tried to leave last summer only to be denied by his contract, which expires in the summer of 2021… what is more likely is that Messi leaves Barcelona to join Neymar at PSG.

Any club Messi joins would need to be able to offer him a great strike partner, someone to play with him in attack. So who would those players (and clubs) be? More or less completely ignoring financial factors (because it was more fun that way), we explored this thought experiment and came up with the list below.


Age: 28
Club: PSG
Football Index value: £6.30 (Sell)  £7.06 (Buy)

Neymar and Messi’s chemistry is instant and iconic. For about half a decade they have been the first- and second-best players in the world, sensational playmakers who can dominate the final third. They were excellent in M-S-N together, and with Messi increasingly dropping deeper to initiate play, having him and Neymar in the same side would unleash the Brazilian as a goal threat even more than he is. A reunion at PSG would be a tremendous footballing success, though Neymar would have to give up that no. 10 shirt!

Luis Suárez

Age: 33
Club: Atlético Madrid
Football Index value: £0.65 (Sell)  £0.76 (Buy)

Messi’s best friend left the Camp Nou this summer and the chemistry these two had was legendary. They were friends on and off the field and they could find each other in the dark. Of course their chemistry became toxic for the team as a whole because neither has the pace they used to and neither really presses. A reunion at Atlético Madrid would be a disaster (so good job it’d never happen for financial reasons alone), even if it would be funny to watch Messi play in a team managed by Diego Simeone.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Age: 39
Club: Milan
Football Index value: £0.58 (Sell)  £0.69 (Buy)

Yet another reunion, Messi and Zlatan played together for one season at Barcelona in 2009/10. They played well as teammates, but Zlatan didn’t like playing second fiddle. In addition to the chemistry issues, as Zlatan approaches 40 he needs legs and energy around him, which is exactly what Messi needs as well. This wouldn’t work.

Sergio Aguero

Age: 32
Club: Manchester City
Football Index value: £1.05 (Sell)  £1.18 (Buy)

Sergio Aguero’s contract is winding down at Manchester City, but he’s been friends and team mates with Messi for 15 years now ever since the 2005 U-20 World Cup (where Argentina won with Messi as top scorer and best player). If Pep Guardiola would want Messi to settle quickly at City it would make sense to renew Aguero, which ex-City defender Micah Richards expects to happen.

Although interestingly enough given how friendly they are with each other they’ve never really shone as partners on the pitch, with Messi thriving alongside different kinds of strikers. That said, Aguero’s evolution under Pep Guardiola as well as the quality of the rest of the City side mean that if Guardiola were to pair these two, it could work well.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Age: 35
Club: Juventus
Football Index value: £2.65 (Sell)  £3.06 (Buy)

The goalscoring arms race between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo over the last decade has been a genuinely historic battle. The pair have dominated football, hoovering up most of the trophies between them. They’re cast as rivals but the funniest thing is that they would actually play superbly together. Messi is a playmaker first who excels at dribbling and passing and Cristiano is one of the greatest goalscorers to ever walk the earth. With Messi’s passes feeding him, Cristiano’s goalscoring would continue at a ridiculous rate all the way through his 30s.

Romelu Lukaku

Age: 27
Club: Inter Milan
Football Index value: £1.74 (Sell)  £1.87 (Buy)

Lautaro Martinez is Messi’s strike partner for Argentina and many speculated Barcelona were going to try and sign him last summer. However if Messi went to Inter it would be to play with one man and one man only: Romelu Lukaku. Truth be told, they’d likely move Lautaro on (to Barcelona?) to make room for Messi, who would absolutely thrive playing ahead of a hard-working five-man midfield and with the constantly moving target of Lukaku up-front. Imagine how deadly Lukaku’s roll move would become when defenders are equally concerned of being rolled as the Belgian knocking passes back to Messi? Football’s first pick-n’-roll attack!

Marcus Rashford

Age: 23
Club: Manchester United
Football Index value: £3.79 (Sell)  £4.42 (Buy)

Manchester United have always been in the conversation if Messi were to leave Barcelona, mainly because they have more money than most and an eye for marketing that few can match, and Messi is a marketing bonanza. Adidas would certainly appreciate being able to pair their biggest brands together. “I don’t know what will happen, but I hope [Messi] doesn’t go there,” Mata recently told Laureus. “If he comes to Manchester I hope it’s to my club and not the other.”

Moreover, on the field Messi would dovetail really well with Marcus Rashford, an incredible talent of iron will with enough invention and speed to make the kind of off-the-ball runs that Messi loves to find. Rashford could even inspire Messi to use his colossal profile to speak up on social injustices that need fighting.

Erling Haaland

Age: 20
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Football Index value: £5.55 (Sell)  £6.06 (Buy)

Barcelona could have signed Erling Haaland in January 2020 but opted not to for reasons which make absolutely no sense at all because if ever a striker was the perfect fit to play with Messi right now, it’s young Erling Haaland. As he ages and finds sprinting harder, all Messi really wants is a fast target to hit with his passes (look at how he’s turned Jordi Alba into a world-class left-back) and as anyone who has watched him knows; Haaland is lightning quick. With his pace scorching behind defenders Messi would be threading those passes all day. The Norwegian is also enormous, so would be a threat for Messi’s diagonal crosses and set-pieces too. There’s just no way that Haaland wouldn’t score goals in record-breaking amounts if paired with Messi. Along with several other clubs on this list it’s a pie-in-the-sky notion, but it would be stupendous to see the Argentine playing for Dortmund.

Robert Lewandowski

Age: 32
Club: Bayern Munich
Football Index value: £2.40 (Sell)  £2.69 (Buy)

Lewandowski is a magnificent all-around forward who can do basically everything. Admittedly he isn’t fast, but he is intelligent enough that he would form a good partnership with Messi. It would basically be a better version of the one he currently has with Thomas Muller.

Harry Kane

Age: 27
Club: Spurs
Football Index value: £4.75 (Sell)  £5.17 (Buy)

As impossible as it would be to see Messi playing for Spurs, the Argentine’s potential partnership with Harry Kane would be a genuine pleasure to watch. Kane is an elite forward who can push forward to score goals but also drop deep to facilitate, meaning that Messi could feed him and also be fed by him. Kane’s intelligence makes up for his lack of pace and when you throw Heung-min Son into the picture (who, like Cristiano and Haaland is just a perfect foil for Messi) then apart from clashing over the No.10 shirt it’s hard to see where Messi and Kane don’t form a fantastic partnership that would lift Spurs to all kinds of success.