Lionel Messi’s two-week suspension by Paris Saint-Germain after an unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia has drawn a line in the sand between the 35-year-old and his club. It now appears very difficult for the Argentinian to stay in Paris beyond this summer.
After months of drifting in negotiations, his contract is expected to simply expire at the end of June. It will mark a passive conclusion after two years in the French capital.
Messi signed a two-year contract with PSG in 2021 and he included the option of a third year. Amid uncertainty over his renewal, his camp hinted at the expectation of more information on what PSG’s sporting project will look like next season.
It now appears that the sporting project has no place for Messi within it, and that conclusion has been abruptly pushed forward by the events of this week.
So if not Paris, where will Messi play football next season? Is a return to Barcelona, the club he served with such distinction until 2021, financially viable? Does Messi’s lucrative ambassadorship role with the Saudi tourism board suggest he will follow Cristiano Ronaldo and play club football in the Middle East? What about a long-time move to Inter Miami and Major League Soccer?
Here is the progress of Athleticism experts in Spain, France and the United States right now…
It’s certainly Barcelona president Joan Laporta’s dream, and everything indicates that it seems to be Messi’s personal choice. However, there is still a long way to go before these feelings become reality.
In fact, it seems unwise to speculate on Lionel Messi’s potential return given Barcelona’s financial struggles. After all, the club are yet to register new contracts for Gavi, Ronald Araujo, Alejandro Balde, Marcos Alonso and Sergi Roberto under La Liga wage rules.
But, while signing Messi seems like an impossible puzzle at Camp Nou at the moment, none of this will dissuade many at Barcelona from believing a deal can possibly happen.
La Liga are set to demand that Barcelona cut their wage bill by around €200m (£176m; $221m) for the 2023-24 season. At the moment, the Catalans exceed the limit that the Spanish league has set for them to spend on salaries. Like other clubs in similar situations, Barcelona had to file a financial viability plan to set out the steps they will take to balance their books for the next two seasons.
Two weeks ago, Barcelona did just that. They have also informed La Liga about their operation during the summer transfer window. There are no clear details on what this plan entails, but several sources at Barcelona, who requested anonymity to protect their jobs, have confirmed that La Liga president Javier Tebas has been briefed on the plan. intention of the club to try to resign from Messi. And Barcelona won’t want to wait until the last days of the summer transfer window to find out if they have their man.
However, how a club can slash their €200m wage bill while signing one of the biggest earners in world football is another matter.
The coaching staff, led by manager Xavi, are pushing to have one ‘last dance’ from Messi at the club. They believe the Argentine star would bring exactly what his team lacks, especially in making the difference in the final third, where 20-year-old Pedri seems to be taking too much responsibility for the team’s success.
In the locker room, opinions are divided. While a significant part of the current squad are relishing the chance to be in a squad with Messi again, there are also certain sectors who are more reluctant at the prospect of a reunion.
Messi’s side, who have been approached for comment, conceded weeks ago that a return to Barcelona can only be conceived from a romantic rather than a realistic point of view at this time.
But again, it’s Barcelona. Everything can happen.
Pol Ballus and Laia Cervello Herrero
Moving to Saudi Arabia?
The numbers are frightening: Messi could command up to 400 million euros (around $443 million) a year to play out his career in Saudi Arabia.
But while another year at PSG was still a possibility, playing in the Saudi Pro League – ranked the 58th highest quality league in the world, according to sports intelligence agency Twenty First Group – was not the safest option. appealing to Messi. He wanted to stay in Europe and continue playing at the highest level before the next Copa America in the United States in 2024.
That may have changed now, however.
The lack of projects to choose from in Europe is the main reason why we are unlikely to see Messi in the Champions League again next season. With PSG dismissed as a potential option, only Barcelona admit a legitimate interest in him – and we’ve already explained how uncertain that option is.
The sponsorship deal Saudi Arabia signed with Messi to promote international tourism doesn’t automatically mean he’ll want to play his club’s football there, of course, and he’s not the only player a league that strives to have an impact will target. After Ronaldo joined Al Nassr in January, the Saudi league identified players such as Neymar Jr, Pepe and Luka Modric as potential entrants to try to follow him.
Join Inter Miami?
With Messi’s time at PSG seemingly coming to an end, David Beckham’s Inter Miami have at least one less competitor in their long-running pursuit of the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
In MLS circles, Messi joining Miami one day has long been considered an open secret. The club, however, still hope ‘one day’ will be this summer.
Miami has been pushing for this outcome for a long time, with meetings continuing through the winter. Jorge and Jose Mas – the brothers who co-own Inter Miami alongside Beckham – led the negotiations and numerous meetings took place with Messi’s father, Jorge.
Messi has a home in Miami and regularly spends time in South Florida. Miami also has roster space (or ‘designated player spot’, in MLS parlance) ready for Messi and could even make more space to add a player like Sergio Busquets.
MLS commissioner Don Garber said Athleticism in March, it will likely take a creative deal to make that happen, but that the league and Inter Miami are willing to be flexible in finding the right compensation package to land Messi.
The ball, in many ways, is in Messi’s court here.
Stay at PSG?
Messi’s stay in Paris is coming to an end.
After his World Cup triumph with Argentina in December in Doha, the idea of him leaving a Qatari club at PSG seemed far-fetched. A deal to extend his stay in Paris seemed a natural conclusion. In France, PSG were unbeaten in the league and Messi was at the heart of things, kicking things off after a slow debut campaign at his new club.
But since then, the atmosphere has changed a lot. PSG’s performances have taken a nosedive, with nine defeats this calendar year alone and one elimination by Bayern Munich in the Champions League round of 16.
Messi wasn’t to blame for this individually, but he was a symptom of a poor team build that left the club ill-equipped to fight on all fronts. The club’s unease after the World Cup, against the backdrop of Messi’s triumph, didn’t help.
For the player, this period of his career will have been deadly and it is now crowned by this club sanction. Fan sentiment had turned against him and his name was whistled at the Parc des Princes before matches. The feelings of the Parisian supporters centered on suggestions that he hasn’t been as invested as he was during his time at Barcelona; a point only reinforced by the turgid form of the team since the beginning of the year. Repeated rumors about a possible return to the Catalan club have only fueled this fire.
Now that he has become an example in Paris, it seems unlikely that relations can be rebuilt. For the player, staying in Paris no longer seems comfortable.
PSG want to focus on building around Kylian Mbappe and taking advantage of the large pool of talent that exists within the French game. It means an end to their emphasis on ‘bling’ and big names (and a big payroll), and it also means a willingness to disassociate themselves from Messi.
(Top photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)