Lionel Messi has been a standout performer for club and country. The diminutive Argentinian, widely regarded as one of the best players to have graced the game, is one of the last vestiges of the true one-club man.
Making his professional debut with Barcelona almost two decades ago, Messi has scored numerous goals and won innumerable accolades for his club. Considering his contributions, Messi, whose contract with the Blaugrana ran out this summer, is expected to re-sign with the La Liga giants.
Over the years, Messi has played with a plethora of world-class teammates like Ronaldinho, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Luis Suarez and Neymar, to name a few. But in the last few years, the Argentine has had to shoulder a bulk of Barcelona's attacking burden.
The overreliance on Messi subsequently resulted in rather modest returns for the Blaugrana on the field.
While Messi has continued to churn out fabulous individual campaigns, Barcelona endured their first trophyless campaign in more than a decade in 2019-20 and only won the Copa Del Rey last season.
Considering his pedigree and clout at the club, the soft-spoken Messi has reportedly asked his club to sign several quality players over the years. Here's a look at five of the best of them in no particular order:
#5 Lautaro Martinez
Lautaro Martinez is one of the most sought-after strikers in the game after coming off two excellent campaigns at Inter Milan. Martinez also had a decent campaign at Copa America 2021, complementing his captain Messi's efforts to help Argentina win their first title in nearly three decades.
With the departure of Neymar in 2017 and Luis Suarez last summer, Barcelona have lacked a consistent goalscorer who could take the pressure off Messi. Antoine Griezmann was signed in 2019, but the Frenchman hasn't really hit the heights expected of him at Camp Nou.
Last year, Messi reportedly spoke with his compatriot about the latter's move to Barcelona, as per Adrian Fernandez, who 'discovered' Martinez, during an interaction with Sport. Fernandez had said in this regard:
"Messi called him and wants him by his side soon, I have no doubt. For that reason, the deal to sign him is almost there. I know things will go well in Barcelona and that Lautaro will be an excellent replacement for Suarez. He's the ideal heir. Thanks to Barca, he will continue to grow as a player and a man."
Later, Martinez said that he was 'very close' to joining Barcelona, as quoted by ESPN Argentina:
“I was truly very close to joining Barcelona and I even talked it over with Messi,” he said. “However, the Blaugrana had economic problems at that moment, so I decided to stay at Inter. It proved to be the right decision, especially as we then won the Scudetto."
With Barcelona's financial woes yet to abate, it remains to be seen if Martinez will arrive at Camp Nou.
The pair shared a great camaraderie both on and off the field, with Neymar often talking about Messi as his good friend and idol, and Messi reciprocating the same to the Brazilian.
After a rather acrimonious exit from Barcelona in the summer of 2017, Neymar has had an injury-riddled stint at PSG and talked several times about a return to Camp Nou. Messi, on his part, reportedly told his club that they should do everything in their power to bring back the Brazilian.
During an interview with Mundo Deportivo last year, Messi reiterated his desire to see the Brazilian back with him at Barcelona, saying:
"I say it many times, on a sporting level, Ney is one of the best in the world, and I would love for him to come back."
With Neymar signing a contract extension with PSG this year, it seems unlikely he'll reunite with Messi at Barcelona any time soon.