Invincible Ray Parlour says Lionel Messi would fit well in England
Saturday’s Community Shield tie between Premiership champions Liverpool and FA Cup winners Arsenal will be the bugle call for a season unusual in equal measure for closed-door games and the possibility of Lionel Messi playing in the Premier League.
“There’s been a little bit of wrangle with the president of Barca, they seem to have fallen out a bit lately,” Ray Parlour deadpans about football’s biggest talking point eight minutes and 47 seconds into Friday’s Zoom call from London. “So all eyes are on England at the moment.”
The former Arsenal midfielder, who was a part of the “Invincibles” side that went a full season without losing a match in 2003-4, isn’t among those who think Messi will find it difficult adjusting to the weather and the physicality of the Premiership. “It’s totally different from my era (1992-2007). The referees are much stricter, the pitches are fantastic. The days of going to Stoke on a cold Tuesday night and being kicked doesn’t happen anymore. You go for a player, you get a red card. In my era you get a talking to, ‘don’t do it again’. I don’t think it will be a problem for Messi to perform in England like he has in Spain.”
Numbers bear out Parlour. Messi completed 195 dribbles in the 2019-20 La Liga, the maximum across Europe’s top five leagues. But five of the top 10 players on that list played in the Premiership where tackles have drastically reduced. Leicester City’s 19.5 tackles every game was the highest in 2019-20, in 2010-11, 14 teams had more. And those who think La Liga teams don’t play rough needn’t look beyond Getafe’s 131 bookings and seven red cards.
Parlour thinks Messi has at least two good years and if he comes to Manchester City it will be because of his relationship with Pep Guardiola.
From City to Arsenal for whom Parlour played 14 years and scored the winner in the Charity Shield, Community Shield’s predecessor, in 1999 against Manchester United. “To win something at the start of the season gives you a big boost,” he says.
That is what Arsenal need, after ending last season at eighth, their worst finish in 25 years. If Arsenal win on Saturday, “they will be looking forward to the first (league) game which is against Fulham (Sept 12, the opening day of 2020-21) because you go up a couple of levels if you beat Liverpool,” says Parlour.
Arsenal know how to do that, having won 2-1 last month by defending deep. “I think Mikel (Arteta) has learnt a lot from the way they played that game. Liverpool might have to say that if they play like this, we might have to do something different. That makes it an exciting game to get ready for.” Season-openers sometimes are, case in point being the 1999 game where Dwight Yorke’s goal was neutralised by Nwankwo Kanu before the Nigerian set up Parlour.
Arteta has infused a lot more energy in the team, says Parlour. “I think there is a very good spirit in the side; every single player is playing for Mikel.” Willian’s joining on a free transfer will help Arsenal’s midfield especially because “he can score a few goals. They are lacking a little bit in goal power from central midfield especially after Aaron Ramsey left.”
“The defence will be interesting as well. We know they do concede goals, so (William) Saliba is going to be interesting; he is a real good potential.. And if Auba (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang) signs a new contract it will give everybody a boost.”
Arsenal are still a long way from Liverpool and Manchester City, says Parlour and with Chelsea on a buying splurge and Manchester United also looking to add to their squad, it will be a tough season. “If they can get to the top four, for me that would be a very successful season,” he says.
(The Community Shield match will be on Sony Ten 2 and Sony Ten 3 from 9pm on Saturday.)