We can only try to interpolate all the factors to understand what will probably happen. Let’s have a quick look at where he plays. Spain, a land where possession-based football is drilled down as a philosophy and almost all clubs (with the exception of Atletico Madrid), play with a philosophy of trying to score rather than scoring just one goal and sitting back to defend. The focus is more on attacking football in every game and it is only against the top teams that the clubs try to sit back and hit on the break.
Messi seems to be suited very well to the style followed in Barcelona, with the tika-taka style seeming to suit him very well. Also while he plays at Barca he mostly plays with people who rely on tactics rather than speed and strength which are heavily relied upon in the Premier League and the Serie A. Messi style’s seems to suit the build-up play that is followed by Barcelona and many other Spanish teams (as that is traditionally the way football is played in Spain.) It is inevitable he scores with such ease in La Liga, and also finds teammates with golden assists.
Having understood the influences behind his game in Spain, we now shift the focus to England and Italy. Both the leagues are different. We will need to first understand the broad characteristics of each of these leagues.
Once we are clear there, we can try to understand how Messi’s game would be influenced by all these factors. Before we go ahead, it needs to be made clear that we are talking about the current Messi, who lacks pace which he had in his youth, but now is an excellent reader of the game and comes up with brilliance in tight areas.
-> A league which is more inclined towards athleticism and physicality
-> Over the last two decades this league has seen mastermind managers capable of scraping results even with mediocre teams and their influence is still an inspiration for today’s managers
-> A league which is quite demanding in terms of fatigue as it continues through Christmas with matches in quick succession. The top teams often are playing in four competitions towards February and March
The English Impact on Messi’s game?
Messi would be up against teams specifically set-up to cancel his threat out. He would possibly be marked by more than one player and will be often denied any space to look up when he has the ball at his feet. He would not be allowed to turn towards the goal whenever he receives the ball with his back towards the goal. To think by looking up with the ball at his feet, the current Messi would need to drop deep, almost near the half-line.
From there he could either try to find runners behind the defense or try to penetrate the tight English defenses (which would be quite difficult if he doesn’t have teammates as creative as Xavi and Iniesta were)
Also, since in the Premier League even the weaker or mediocre teams are tactically set up to hurt the opponents, Messi would have to take on some defensive responsibilities as well (eg. high-pressing or tactical pressing upon losing the ball), which he doesn’t bother about in Spain
To sum up, he would have to resort to becoming more of a creator and it would be slightly difficult to fetch goals compared to his time in Spain.
Also Considering the goals he recently scored against English teams in the Champions League, except for a goal against Spurs, very rarely he has combined with his teammates and scored from inside the box. He has either hit goals on set-pieces or counter-attacks or because his immediate opponent has committed a blunder. The overall point is that he will not be given enough freedom with the ball to comfortably work his magic.
-> A league which is traditionally based on a defensive mindset with majority of the teams often relying on counter-attacks and low blocks
-> A league in which (except for the top teams) there are usually senior players towards the fag end of their European careers or young aspiring players who aspire to play for big clubs in Spain, Germany or England. Often Premier League rejects have featured in Italian clubs considering the weaker financial status
The Italian Impact on Messi’s game?
The fact that opponents will usually try to sit down deep against him will be a gift for him.
He will have ample of opportunity to look up and take the best decisions. The only problem he will most likely face would be unlocking the tight defenses. Remember how Jose Mourinho didn’t let Messi cause any threat to his Inter side in 2010?
It would take Messi more than himself to find a way past the crowded areas in front of his goal, and he would definitely need the likes of Xavi and Iniesta to make something meaningful or he would need to make attempts from far out or rely on set-pieces near the goal.
But life should be comfortable in Italy compared to England.
But the fact remains… he will survive, he will find a way out and he will adapt himself to give his best for the team. Barcelona is proof, he has survived to remain the best in almost every generation of Barcelona. Legends came, legends left but he continues to remain a pivot for the team. He has adapted in every season, often changed his playing style to suit his current team. Under the right manager, his tactical adaptations prove more worthy and end up getting excellent results. Guardiola and Enrique are two examples of such coaches who did wonders for Barcelona by realizing Messi’s potential.