Lionel Messi has been linked with a move to the MLS when his current contract with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) ends at the end of the season. Despite previous suggestions that he was ready to extend his stay in Paris, he has yet to sign a new deal, and there are commercial reasons why a move to the US may make sense at this stage of his career.
Hopes among Barcelona fans that he could yet return to the club where he enjoyed so much success seem to be receding fast.
Messi signed for the French champions in the summer of 2021, when Barcelona’s financial position forced them to withdraw the offer that they had already made him for a new contract at the club he had joined as a 13-year-old.
Although he joined star-studded team in Paris, with the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Neymar, Sergio Ramos and Gianluigi Donnarumma among his new team-mates, he has rarely seemed at home in his new environment, and the club’s fans have only seen glimpses of the talent that earned him the Golden Ball at the 2022 World Cup.
There have also been suggestions that his family have struggled to adapt to life in the French capital, not finding the weather to their liking and also having language difficulties.
In part, PSG signed him because they hoped he could be the missing piece as they looked to win the Champions League for the first time in their history. But having lost the home leg of their round of 16 tie against Bayern Munich this week, that is already looking beyond them this season.
The Argentine captain may not want to wait around for another season in the hope they will eventually get it right.
Why a Barcelona return can be ruled out
Although figures at Barcelona have made regular noises about bringing the Argentine back to the club, this is probably for reasons of PR, and, in practical terms, this is unlikely.
Although the club is no longer facing bankruptcy, having activated a number of so-called “economic levers”, the financial problems facing them have by no means dissipated.
Earlier this month they were ordered by La Liga to slash their wage bill by £177 million in the summer transfer window, savings that will have to be found either by selling players, or renegotiating existing contracts.
Offering a big money deal to somebody who will be 36 by then, regardless of his talent, legend status, or how many shirts he sells in the club shop, would make no financial sense at all.
The club now rumoured to be in pole position to sign him is Inter Miami, owned by David Beckham and managed by one of his former Manchester United team-mates Phil Neville.
Messi already has links with the city. He has a home in Miami and takes regular holidays there, whilst the family likes the idea of living in the US. And Miami is a lot closer to Argentina than Paris, for when he wants to return to his homeland, or play international football for his country.
(He chose not to retire from international football having achieved his ambition of lifting the World Cup with Argentina, arguing that he wanted to enjoy the feeling of playing as a world champion for a while).
He will not earn the same salary as he does in Paris. The MLS has a salary cap that would prevent him from getting anything close to the £1 million a week that he is paid by PSG.
However, moving to America gives him the chance to build his brand, which, in the long run, could be even more lucrative for him.
Beckham is a prime example of this. He retired from the game in 2013, but continues to earn millions a year in endorsement and sponsorship deals. He was also paid a substantial sum to act as an ambassador for the Qatar World Cup.
And it is not as if Messi would be poor either – he would likely be the top earner in the league.
With Cristiano Ronaldo now plying his trade in Saudi Arabia, it means that next season European football could be deprived of both figures who have been so dominant over the past 15 years or so.
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