Pep Guardiola’s long-term Lionel Messi plan hints at Julian Alvarez’s future Man City success – Alex Brotherton


Manchester City are set to complete the signing of Argentinian striker Julian Alvarez over the coming days, for an initial fee of £17.9m.

The River Plate forward will become only the second January signing of the Pep Guardiola era, although, unlike Aymeric Laporte, it doesn’t look like Alvarez will be joining up with his new teammates in the middle of the season.

That’s because City will allow Alvarez to stay at River Plate until July so that he can play in important Copa Libertadores fixtures. If the Buenos Aires-based side progresses to the latter stages over the competition, his arrival in Manchester could be further delayed until November.

It’s an awkward situation for City to be in – after all, you’d imagine Alvarez would benefit from getting to Manchester as soon as possible so that he can integrate with his teammates and get up to speed with Guardiola’s system.

However, during his time at Barcelona, ​​Guardiola showed that City have made the right call in granting River Plate’s and Alvarez’s wishes.

It was the summer of 2008 and Guardiola had just taken charge of Barcelona, ​​the first top-flight managerial role of his career. Barca had endured an underwhelming couple of years prior to Pep’s appointment, so the Catalan tactician was eager to teach his players his methods over the pre-season.

The problem was that Lionel Messi, 21 at the time, wanted to represent Argentina at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The Argentine had missed eight months of the previous two years with muscle injuries, so Barca did not want him risking further injury on the eve of a new season.

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River Plate's Julian Alvarez celebrates winning the Argentina Primera Division at Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti on November 25, 2021 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  (Photo by Matías Baglietto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
City are expected to announce the signing of Julian Alvarez over the coming days

The club blocked his release for international duty, with a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport backing their stance after FIFA had insisted they must allow him to play.

In the end, Messi went and won gold for the Albiceleste, before playing a pivotal role in Barca winning the treble in Guardiola’s first season as coach.

After the Olympic triumph, Messi revealed that it was Guardiola who had challenged the club and allowed him to represent his country.

“He understood where I was coming from and it was such a nice gesture,” Messi said of his club coach. “He was once a player and he knows how it is. Now I can talk about being an Olympic champion to an Olympic champion.”

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City face a similar – although clearly different – situation with Alvarez. City will no doubt have wanted to get the striker through the door as soon as possible, but in accepting a short-term inconvenience for the team, they will be allowing a young player the chance to achieve something special.

As is the case with the Olympics, in the UK we underestimate the importance of the Copa Libertadores to South American players. It is the continent’s equivalent of the Champions League but for some reason many dumb down its status.

Allowing Alvarez the opportunity to stay and try to win the competition is a show of faith and understanding on City’s part, and will surely only improve relations between the player, club and manager.

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Alvarez did win the competition with River Plate back in 2018, but as an 18-year-old he only made a cameo appearance in the second leg of the final against Boca Juniors.

If he manages to win it this year as the team’s star man, it will be a once in a lifetime experience and may even boost his skillset and performances when he does arrive at City.

“To play in these Olympics was unique, and to win in the final made it even more unforgettable,” Messi said in 2008.

City will pay good money for their new striker but that should never come above the human element of football. The game is about emotion and experience; City and Guardiola are right to let the boy go and live.

Are City right in allowing Julian Alvarez to stay at River Plate for longer? Follow our City Is Ours writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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