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 seems very difficult for the Argentine to stay in Paris after this summer.
After months of drifting into negotiations, his contract is expected to simply expire at the end of June. It will be a negative result after two years in the French capital.
Messi signed a two-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain in 2021 and included a third-year option. Amid uncertainty about whether or not he will renew, his camp hinted at waiting for more information about what the Paris Saint-Germain sports project will look like next season.
It now seems that the sporting project has no place for Messi within it, and this conclusion was surprisingly presented by the events of this week.
If not in Paris, where will Messi play football next season? Is returning to Barcelona, the club with which he served with such distinction until 2021, financially feasible? Does Messi’s lucrative role as ambassador to the Saudi Tourism Authority indicate that he will follow Cristiano Ronaldo and play football in the Middle East? How about the long-awaited move to Inter Miami and Major League Soccer?
Here is the state of play from Athletic Experts in Spain, France and the United States at the moment …
This is certainly the dream of Barcelona president Joan Laporta, and all indications are that it appears to be Messi’s personal choice. However, there is still a lot that needs to happen for these feelings to become true.
Indeed, it is even reckless to speculate on a potential Lionel Messi return given Barcelona’s financial struggles. After all, the club still has to sign new contracts for Gavi, Ronald Araujo, Alejandro Balde, Marcos Alonso and Sergi Roberto under La Liga salary rules.
But, while signing Messi looks like an impossible jigsaw at the Camp Nou at the moment, none of that will dissuade many at Barcelona from believing a deal could eventually happen.
La Liga is expected to demand Barcelona cut its wage bill by around €200m (£176m, $221m) for the 2023-24 season. At the moment, the Catalans exceed the limit set by the Spanish League for them to spend on salaries. Like other clubs in similar situations, Barcelona needed to submit a financial viability plan to lay out the steps they will follow to balance their accounts for the next two seasons.
Two weeks ago, Barcelona did just that. They also told La Liga how they will operate in the summer transfer window. There are no clear details of what the plan entails, but multiple sources at Barcelona, who have been granted anonymity to protect their jobs, have confirmed that La Liga president Javier Tebas has been told of the club’s intention to try and resign Messi. And Barcelona won’t want to wait until the final days of the summer window to see if they have their man.
How the club can cut its €200m salary bill while signing one of the highest paid players in world football is another matter.
The coaching staff, led by coach Xavi, seeks to get the “last dance” from Messi in the club. They feel the Argentine superstar will provide exactly what his team lacks, particularly making a difference in the final third, as the 20-year-old Pedri appears to bear a lot of responsibility for the team’s success.
In the dressing room, opinions are divided. While an important part of the current squad is relishing the chance to team up with Messi once again, there are also some sectors that are most hesitant about the prospect of a reunion.
Contacted for comment, Messi’s camp admitted weeks ago that a return to Barcelona could only be envisioned from a romantic rather than realistic perspective at the moment.
But then again, this is Barcelona. anything could happen.
Paul Ballos and Laia Cervelo Herrero
Moving to Saudi Arabia?
The numbers are scary: Messi could earn up to 400 million euros (about $443 million) a year to make his career in Saudi Arabia.
But when another year at PSG was still a possibility, playing in the Saudi Professional League — ranked as the 58th-quality league in the world, according to sports intelligence agency Twenty First Group — wasn’t the most attractive option for Messi. He wanted to stay in Europe and continue to perform at the highest level before the next Copa America in the United States in 2024.
That may have changed now, though.
The lack of projects to choose from in Europe is the main reason we are unlikely to see Messi in the Champions League again next season. With PSG ruled out as a potential option, only Barcelona admit to a legitimate interest in it – and we’ve already covered just how unclear that option is.
The sponsorship deal that Saudi Arabia signed with Messi to promote international tourism does not automatically mean that he will want to play football with his team there, of course, and he will not be the only player in the league seeking to make an impact. After Ronaldo joined Al-Nassr in January, the Saudi League identified players such as Neymar Jr., Pepe and Luka Modric as potential entries to try to follow him.
Join Inter Miami?
With Messi’s date at Paris Saint-Germain seemingly looming, David Beckham’s Inter Miami have at least one less challenger in their long-running pursuit of the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
In Major League Soccer circles, Messi’s one day joining Miami was considered an open secret. However, the club still hopes that “someday” will be this summer.
Miami had been pushing for that outcome for a long time, with meetings that continued through the winter. Jorge and Jose Mas – the brothers who own Inter Miami along with Beckham – led the negotiations and had numerous meetings with Messi’s father, Jorge.
Messi has a home in Miami and regularly vacations in South Florida. Miami also has a roster space (or “player slot”, in MLS parlance) ready for Messi and could even provide additional space to add a player like Sergio Busquets.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the athlete In March, it will likely take a creative deal to make that happen, but the league and Inter Miami are willing to be flexible to find the right compensation package in order to get Messi.
The ball is, in many ways, in Messi’s court here.
Staying at PSG?
Messi’s stay in Paris is set to end.
After winning the World Cup with Argentina in December in Doha, the idea of him leaving a Qatari-owned club in Paris Saint-Germain seemed far-fetched. The agreement to extend his stay in Paris seemed like a natural outcome. In France, PSG were unbeaten in the league and Messi was at the center of things, as he got off to an initially slow season at his new club.
But since then, the mood has changed dramatically. Paris Saint-Germain performed poorly, suffering nine defeats this calendar year alone, and being eliminated by Bayern Munich in the round of 16 of the Champions League.
Messi was not individually wrong about it, but it was a symptom of poor team building that left the club ill-equipped to fight on all fronts. The club’s malaise after the World Cup did not help, in the context of Messi’s victory.
For a player, this period of his career would be full of bruises and that now topped this club’s penalty. Fans’ feelings were turning against him and his name was whistled at the Parc des Princes before matches. Emotions among the Paris crowd centered on suggestions he wasn’t as invested as he was during his time at Barcelona. A point only reinforced by the team’s strong level since the beginning of the year. Repeated rumors about the possibility of returning to the Catalan club have also fueled the fire.
Now that he is modeling in Paris, it seems unlikely that relations will be rebuilt. For the player, staying in Paris is no longer comfortable.
PSG want to focus on building around Kylian Mbappe and capitalizing on the large talent pool that exists within the French game. This means an end to their focus on ‘bling’ and big names (and a large wage bill), and it also means their willingness to part ways with Messi.
(Top photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP via Getty Images)
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