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Where Would Lionel Messi Fit into Borussia Dortmund’s Depth Chart?

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Let’s talk tactics in a very serious and professional manner.

UEFA Champions League”FC Barcelona v Borussia Dortmund”

So Lionel Messi wants to leave FC Barcelona after spending *checks notes* his entire life there, and there’s really only one logical destination for him: Borussia Dortmund. It’s a little known fact that Lionel Messi is actually a lifelong BVB fan, and has longed secretly throughout his entire career with Barcelona to come to Dortmund and play in front of the yellow wall, and why not? Dortmund fans are some of the best in the world! He would also get to play alongside world class players like Mahmoud Dahoud and Tobias Raschl, an opportunity that no player in their right mind would pass up.

Now some may argue that the city of Dortmund doesn’t quite compare to Barcelona in terms of liveability. To that I say, phooey! There’s a reason so many people refer to Dortmund as the “Barcelona of the North-Rhine Westphalia Region.”

Coronavirus - Dortmund
How rustic!
Photo by Bernd Thissen/picture alliance via Getty Images

The only issue regarding a Messi-to-Dortmund transfer isn’t whether Dortmund is a fit for Messi: it’s whether Messi is a fit for Dortmund! And no, I’m not referencing money. I can already hear whiners in the comments complaining about how “Dortmund can’t afford him.” As someone who majored in economics in college, allow me to clue you in on something: Fiat currency is a human construct and is, at its core, meaningless.

No, I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about squad selection. Sure, Messi may be the best player of all time and potentially the present day, but that doesn’t mean he can just walk on to any old starting XI and make the squad. Where does he fit into Dortmund’s team?

With either Axel Witsel or Emre Can playing as holding midfielders, one possible role for Messi is as a box-to-box central midfielder. So who would his competition for this spot be? Obviously, Thomas Delaney is the first name that comes to mind. I don’t think that it’s controversial to say that Delaney is the squad’s best overall player due to his grit and mentality and whatnot. Messi could never compare: it would take him an entire season to rack up the amount of yellow cards that Delaney can collect in just a few weeks. This is settled, we all agree, and we can move on. It’s after the Danish Dynamo is etched into the squad that things get interesting.

One might think that Messi is the obvious choice to follow up Delaney’s selection in midfield, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Jude Bellingham, Dortmund’s newest arrival from the English Championship, is keen to claim a spot in BVB’s midfield, and will undoubtedly go head-on with Messi for that spot. To determine which player is superior, I have created the following scientifically-rigorous table to empirically determine which player is superior:

That last criterion is all the proof you need that Messi is already a Dortmund player through-and-through, but as for the rest of those criteria, I think it’s pretty obvious that the edge goes to Jude. In all, BVB’s midfield is looking pretty stacked. Messi is already behind Bellingham and Delaney, and I didn’t even mention Reyna, Brandt, Dahoud, or Reinier. Maybe Messi can play in his old role as a right winger?

Unfortunately, here Messi runs into the brick wall that is Jadon Sancho. The young Englishman absolutely dominated the Bundesliga last year, racking up goals and assists at an absurd rate. That being said, Messi had a quality season as well, with 25 goals and 20 assists in La Liga.

It might look like Messi has Sancho beat, and I could forgive you for thinking that. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that Messi would win out against Sancho until you consider the phenomenon that I like to call the “Salty Manchester United Fan Factor.”

You see, there’s a website out there called twitter dot com, and there are a lot of Manchester United Fans on it. Long story short, they are not happy that Jadon Sancho didn’t move to United this summer, and will voice said displeasure in the replies of basically any semi-popular tweet that mentions him. I don’t want to single out any Man United fans by embedding particular tweets here, but seriously, go look for them - they’re there.

Do you see that salt? That delicious sodium chloride that tastes so good you just want to inject it into your veins? Now imagine that salt every time Sancho scores, and tell me you don’t want him starting every freaking match. That is one thing Messi will never match.

At this point, things are looking pretty bleak for Messi. He could maybe make a few appearances in the Pokal if injuries pile up, but I really don’t see any other way he could make it into the squad.

Unless...

Consider this for a moment. Lucien Favre wants to play a 4-2-3-1 next season. That means Haland up top with Brandt or Reyna as a #10, Sancho on the right, and either Guerreiro or Hazard on the left. We have like 50 midfielders who apparently fit in front of Messi. At right back there’s Thomas Meunier and Mateu Morey, and BVB have a quality group of central defenders to choose from.

But then there’s the left backs. We have Nico Schulz, who could perhaps best be described as “a guy who does thing occasionally”. There’s Marcel Schmelzer who, goal-scoring aptitude aside, isn’t really up to the task at this point in his career. There’s Raphael Guerreiro, but I prefer him on the wing where his attacking potential could be maximized.

Here’s my question: What about Messi? Are we really convinced that he couldn’t be a better left back than Nico Schulz? I have to say, “Borussia Dortmund left back Lionel Messi” is not a sentence I ever though I would write in my entire life, but if you say it out loud, it has a way of rolling off the tongue that just makes it sound irresistible. Yes, it is literally the exact opposite side of the pitch from where he has staked most of his career, but who’s to say that a transition to left back is exactly what Messi needs at this point in his career?

You say it’s impossible, I say, it’s football, baby. To do is to dare. Fortuna favors the bold. If the idea of Messi flying into a crunching tackle at the edge of the box, dribbling his way up the pitch, and launching a peach of a cross in to Erling Håland doesn’t get your mouth watering, I don’t know what will.

So come to BVB, Lionel. There’s a lovely-ish five-bedroom at only a week’s wage and a spot at left back in Dortmund for you. The beer is heavenly, the air is... industrial, and the wall is to be feared. You won’t regret it.