Messi signing for Manchester City, the back page fodder of many an English tabloid in recent months, had not carried much plausibility until early yesterday afternoon when Manuel Pellegrini, typically not a man to stray far from the mundane in his press briefings, suddenly announced he was to leave his post as manager this summer.
Within minutes, his employers dropped into step and confirmed the worst-kept secret in football — that Pep Guardiola, the architect of tiki-taka success in Barcelona and stereotypically efficient football in Bayern Munich, will take over at the Etihad Stadium this summer on a three-year contract when he leaves the Bundesliga.
The dream was four years in the making for City — who first courted Guardiola in 2012, before appointing Pellegrini as a distant second choice a year later — and, driven by their football executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, who learned their trade alongside the manager in Barcelona.
Four years on and the timing could hardly be better for a club that has serious aspirations for success on four trophy fronts over the remainder of the current campaign.
Managerial chaos at Chelsea and Manchester United— and, arguably, even at Arsenal where the annual speculation is about to begin over how long Arsene Wenger will remain in charge — makes the announcement particularly timely, while the fact it came on transfer deadline day ensured it had maximum impact on the English football psyche.
Pellegrini himself admitted he had known of the deal, which will be worth a reported €20m a season to Guardiola, a month ago, but sources claimed he had known from the moment he walked through the door at City that this day would come. It was always a matter of when, not if.
The 62-year-old Chilean, whose efforts since winning the league and League Cup double in his first season in 2014 can at best be described as adequate, spoke at length with City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak last week and, it was claimed, was happy with discussions and the chance to announce his departure nearly four months ahead of time in order to seek new employment, either in England or Spain.
Certainly, Manchester United have been privately admitting for at least a month that they knew Guardiola was bound for their “noisy neighbours”.
The news makes their current predicament over the reign of Louis van Gaal all the more perilous, as Guardiola is the last piece in the expensive jigsaw that the Abu Dhabi royal family first unboxed when they bought City in 2008 and have been piecing together via huge investment in staff, infrastructure, and the development of the Eastlands area of Manchester, for so long one of the most run-down districts of the city.
Along the way, there has been significant — sometimes ridiculous — investment in personnel, with successful signings, such as Sergio Aguero and David Silva, on a par with any talent the Premier League has ever seen.
Until now, however, what has been missing has been a global icon, a player to take City to the next level, not only in terms of the priceless Champions League title, which the owners have set their heart on, but also in terms of allowing the club to market themselves more effectively in the global marketplace that has become so vital to the modern Premier League.
City welcomed a £265m investment from Chinese consortium CMC late last year, prompting speculation that they will tour that growing economic powerhouse this summer, possibly even giving Guardiola his first public airing there.
Brilliant as Aguero and Silva are, they lack the sheer global star power of a Messi, Ronaldo, or Neymar in terms of marketing themselves, and the club, in markets like China, where football supporting, and even capitalism itself, are still at an embryonic stage.
City reached Wembley last week, in the Capital One Cup semi-final against Everton, in front of nearly 5,000 empty seats, despite desperate efforts to sell out the stadium.
With Guardiola in charge and — City supporters can dare to dream from today — Messi in their starting line-up, it is hard to imagine a seat being available at the Etihad for a similar game in future seasons.
Such is the difference Guardiola can make to City, to any wealthy elite club he joins. The world’s self-styled richest club, and one that could boast some of the best facilities and infrastructure in the world game, has now appointed, arguably, the world’s best manager. What price Messi one day joining that revolution?