The sporting world was sent into shock when arguably the greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi, revealed he wants to leave Barcelona.
Messi has been with Catalan giants for almost 20 years(17 in the first team) and has been central to the team’s success.
Without Messi, Barcelona would not have had the success that has been associated with the club over the last ten years.
To Barcelona fans, Messi is simply the greatest of all time, and no player comes close. It is an opinion shared by many football lovers, and in all fairness, it’s hard to argue if one takes a look at the incredible things he does on the pitch.
The decision to leave comes after Barcelona finished their season without a trophy for the first time since 2008. La Blaugrana lost the defence of their La Liga title to Real Madrid.
The UEFA Champions League was their main objective this season having not won it since 2015. However, they suffered an 8-2 embarrassing defeat to eventual winners Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.
Their capitulation mirrored their 2018 and 2019 exit in the competition, which saw Barcelona blow commanding first-leg leads against Roma and Liverpool respectively.
According to reports, Messi is also tired with the way the club is being run off the pitch. After losing Neymar in 2017, Barca have made a lot of big signings, but none has been able to replace the Brazilian star effectively.
These underlying issues have left Messi frustrated, and he is looking for a fresh challenge. Although Barcelona insists any club willing to take their most prized asset will have to pay his £623million release clause, Messi hopes he can leave for free due to an agreement he has with the club.
But the truth is Messi has never been closer to leaving Barcelona than now. So with Messi eager to move on, what are the options available for Barcelona? Freshsports take a look at five African stars that Barca can sign as his replacement.
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Mane has been a target for both Barcelona and Real Madrid in the past. Reports even claimed that the Senegal international was angry with his Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp, over his refusal to leave the club last summer.
Mane has been a key player for the Reds since he arrived at Anfield in 2016. His 18 goals and nine assists in 35 Premier League games last season helped Liverpool to their first top-flight title in 30 years.
He also finished as the joint top scorer in the 2018/2019 season with 22 goals. While he may not have the same quality as Messi (no player does), Mane’s versatility and adroitness in the attacking third could help cushion the effect of losing Messi.
Although Liverpool consider Mane has an integral player in their team, the Senegal international is open to leaving according to reports.
However, Barcelona may have to cough out over £100million to snatch the former Southampton man from the hands of Liverpool.
Liverpool have two of Africa’s best as part of a fabulous trio in attack. Mane, Salah and Firmino are one of the best striking partnership in the world right now.
Just like Mane, Salah is also an important player in Klopp’s squad. The Egyptian arrived in Liverpool in 2017 and finished as the Premier League top scorer with a record-breaking 32 goals.
His displays that season earned him the PFA Player of the Season award. In his second season, he won the Champions League and also finished as the joint tops scorer in England’s top-flight with 22 goals.
Salah also played a pivotal role in Liverpool’s Premier League win last season, scoring 19 goals and registering ten assists.
Having won the Champions League and Premier League, the former Chelsea man could also be interested in a fresh challenge and would fit in at Barcelona perfectly.
Salah’s record and performances in the last three seasons show he could at least try to replace the goals Barcelona would be losing in Messi’s departure.
Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City)
Mahrez may not be as productive as the other two players, but he has played under Pep Guardiola, the man who reinvented the style Barcelona are obsessed with right now.
Guardiola enjoyed a successful five year stay with Barcelona and introduced the famous tiki-taka style. Mahrez has played under his tutelage in the last two seasons and has been linked with a move to Camp Nou.
Manchester City are favourites to land Messi, but reports claim they are ready to include Mahrez and Bernado Silva in the deal.
The Algerian man dribbling skills and eye for a pass could replace the creativity that Barcelona would miss should Messi eventually leave. Mahrez had his most prolific campaign in a City shirt last campaign with 11 goals and 12 assists in 33 League games.
But signing Mahrez comes with a condition. He turns 30 in five months.
The Nigerian was linked with a move to Barcelona last season. Chukwueze broke onto the scene previous two seasons in Villarreal’s 4-4 draw against Barcelona.
The 21-year-old proved a tough challenge to handle for Barcelona defenders that night. He capped up his performance with a goal and an assist.
Since he made his debut last two campaigns, Chukwueze’s profile has been on the rise. Although he’s more similar to Arjen Robben, his superb quality means he could be an option for Barcelona.
He struggled for consistency last season, but that’s normal with a player still in the developmental stages. While Chukwueze may not be as established as other players, his young age gives him an edge.
Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)
Just like Chukwueze, Saka is also an emerging talent. The 18-year-old was handed his Arsenal debut by Unai Emery in a Europa League encounter.
Since then he has continued to improve and was one of the best players for the Gunners last campaign. He was also linked with a move to Barcelona last summer.
His arrival would definitely provide more options in the attack for Barca. However, he would likely cost a fortune as he just signed a new long-term deal at the Emirates.