Remembering Lionel Messi’s first season in the Premier League with Man City

The summer of 2020 will always be remembered as one of the most dramatic transfer windows in football history.

After falling out with Barcelona chiefs (specifically the mysterious Mr Josep Maria B – no, that’s too obvious – Mr J M Bartomeu), Lionel Messi waved goodbye to the Nou Camp after 16 seasons.

He set sail for Manchester – quite literally since flights were disrupted by Covid-19 – and reunited with Pep Guardiola at the Etihad, taking the No10 shirt off his compatriot Sergio Aguero.


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Alpha, beta

The club’s announcement video – Messi leading a goat through the streets of Manchester – became the most shared social post of all time — it has recently been overtaken by the CCTV footage of Donald Trump and Price Andrew’s secret handshake.

As hype built up, fans, pundits and players were all asking the same question: can he do it in the biggest league in the world?

With no Spanish ‘farmers’ in sight, how would he cope against the might of Burnely, the strength of Brighton, and the velocity of West Brom?

Messi was introduced to the superior glitz and glamour of the Premier League with an away trip to Fulham on the first day of the 2020/21 season, where he was given a hostile reception by the 20-odd people allowed inside Craven Cottage — a slice of quiche was thrown in his general direction during the warm-up.

Quiche Lorraine if you must know

In the Sky Sports studio, Graeme Souness was sceptical whether the six-time Ballon d’Or winner would be able to perform at the same level as he did in La Liga, saying: “He’s not playing in at Getafe now.”

But the grizzled pundit could only look on and admire Messi’s two-goal performance as the Argentine somehow managed to make Tim Ream and Cyrus Christie look like typical Celta Vigo defenders.

He provided three assists for Raheem Sterling (all tap-ins from a yard) in his first home game but caused a stir post-match by telling Geoff Shreeves: “The Etihad is a great stadium, but I’m used to 100,000 home fans. It felt weird playing in front of nobody today.”

Shreeves reminded him that fans were not allowed to attend because of the pandemic but eventually he would have the pleasure of playing home games in front of at least 26,000.

Despite five goals from his first five games, doubts remained over the Argentine No10’s ability to dominate Premier League games.

Twitter accounts such as @CR7forever and @CornerTakenQuickly pointed out that Messi was on course to score 38 league goals in the season, which would be significantly fewer than the 50 goals he scored in the 2011/12 La Liga season, proving he had been exposed as a fraud by the English game.

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Case closed

There was much excitement when Man City drew Stoke in the Greggs’ Vegan Sausage Roll Cup.

Diving rain and howling winds welcomed the diminutive forward to the bet365 Stadium on a Tuesday night, realising the famed hypothetical situation that many had debated for years.

Messi scored a 34-minute hat-trick.

His first misstep came when City travelled to Anfield to face the defending champions.

Sensing a chance to seek revenge, he attempted a quick corner in front of the Kop, but only succeeded in deceiving his team-mates.

Trent Alexander-Arnold cleared the ball and launched a counterattack, allowing Thiago Alcantara and Rhian Brewster to run at City’s centre-back partnership of Eric Garcia and Ilkay Gundogan to score the game’s only goal.

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Little scamp

Fans of other clubs were quick to label Messi a ‘flat-track bully’ after he failed to score against a team who had hardly lost a game that mattered in two and a half years.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s biggest fans reminded everyone that the Portuguese superstar scored in every Premier League game he ever played in, famously so.

But the taunts didn’t last long as Messi continued to score and assist freely, proving once and for all that a man with a century of Champions League goals is capable of thriving in a league in which Danny Ings is a Golden Boot contender.

However, since Aymeric Laporte was one of the nine players sold in January to balance the books with the Financial Fair Play regulators looming in search of revenge, City failed to win the league despite averaging nearly four goals a game.

Messi finished the season with 42 goals and 22 assists but, since James Milner covered the most ground, the Englishman was named FWA Footballer of the Year.

One journalist, who preferred to remain anonymous, cited Messi’s red card against Wolves (brandished with aplomb by an orgasmic Mike Dean) as the primary reason why the forward’s debut Premier League campaign would go down in history as ‘mixed’.

Only 42 goals? Pfft.

His first Champions League campaign with Man City ended in heartbreak too.

Two goals against former club Barcelona in the quarters (who were languishing in 9th in La Liga at the time) set up a semi-final against Ronaldo’s Juventus.

The 36-year-old landed the first blow by converting two penalties in Turin — who could forget the height he reached during his second celebration?

Messi struck back with a brace of his own in Manchester before the game was abandoned due to a surplus of influencers invading the pitch in hope of a number one trending YouTube video.

The two legends stood side by side in the centre circle, exchanging views under covered mouths as the night suffocated under a mountain of tweets, memes, TikToks and general nonsense.


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