Paris Saint-Germain’s two-week suspension of Lionel Messi after an unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia has drawn a line in the sand between the 35-year-old and his club. Staying in Paris beyond this summer now looks very difficult for the Argentine.
His contract is expected to close at the end of June after months of stalled negotiations. It would mark an inactive end after two years in the French capital.
Messi has signed a two-year contract with PSG in 2021, which includes an option for a third year. Amid uncertainty over whether he will renew, his camp indicated they are waiting for more information on what PSG’s game plan will look like next season.
It now appears that Messi has no place in the game plan, and the events of this week have brought that conclusion to the fore.
If not in Paris, where will Messi play football next season? Is a return to Barcelona, the club where he has served so well until 2021, financially viable? Is Messi’s lucrative ambassadorship for the Saudi tourism board suggesting he will follow Cristiano Ronaldo and play club football in the Middle East? What about Inter Miami and a long-term move to Major League Soccer?
Here is the state of the game Athletics Currently experts in Spain, France and the US…
It’s certainly Barcelona president Joan Laporta’s dream, and it seems to be Messi’s personal favourite. However, a lot more needs to happen before those feelings become reality.
In fact, even speculating about Lionel Messi’s potential return feels reckless given Barcelona’s financial struggles. After all, the club is yet to sign new deals for Xavi, Ronald Araujo, Alejandro Balte, Marcos Alonso and Sergi Roberto under La Liga’s salary rules.
But while Messi’s signature now looks like an impossible jigsaw at the Camp Nou, that won’t stop many at Barcelona from hoping a deal will eventually happen.
La Liga is expected to demand a 200 million euro (£176m; $221m) cut from Barcelona for the 2023-24 season. At the moment, the Catalans are exceeding the limit set by the Spanish league for spending on wages. Like other clubs in similar situations, Barcelona had to file a financial viability plan to set out the steps they would follow to balance their accounts over the following 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 spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, have confirmed that La Liga president Javier Tebas has been told of the club’s intention to try to get Messi to resign. Barcelona don’t want to wait until the final days of the summer window to find out if they’ve got their man.
However, it is another matter that one of the highest-earning clubs in world football can reduce its wage bill by €200m.
The coaching staff led by manager Xavi urges Messi to dance his last dance at the club. They feel the Argentina star will provide exactly what his team lacked, especially making a difference in the final third, where the 20-year-old Petrie seems to be more responsible for the team’s success.
In the dressing room, opinions are divided. While a significant portion of the current squad are relishing the prospect of being in a team with Messi again, there are some sections who are hesitant about the prospect of a reunion.
Approached for comment, Messi’s camp admitted weeks ago that a return to Barcelona could only be considered from a romantic perspective rather than a realistic one for now.
But then again, this is Barcelona. Anything can happen.
Paul Paulus and Laya Cervello Herrero
Go to Saudi Arabia?
The numbers are frightening: Messi could command up to €400m (about $443m) 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 – the 58th highest-quality league in the world, according to sports intelligence firm TwentyFirst Group – was not Messi’s most appealing option. He wants to stay in Europe and perform at the highest level ahead of the next Copa America in 2024 in the United States.
That may have changed now.
The lack of selection programs in Europe means Messi is unlikely to be back in the Champions League next season. With PSG ruled out as a potential option, only Barcelona admit a legitimate interest in him – and we’ve already detailed how uncertain that interest is.
The sponsorship deal Saudi Arabia has signed with Messi to promote international tourism doesn’t mean he wants to play his club football there. After joining Ronaldo Al Nasser in January, the Saudi league identified the likes of Neymar Jr., Pepe and Luka Modric as potential arrivals to try and follow him.
Join Inter Miami?
With Messi’s time at PSG over, David Beckham’s Inter Miami are without at least one rival in their long-running bid to win the seven-time Ballon d’Or.
In MLS circles, it has long been considered an open secret that Messi would one day join Miami. However, the club is still hoping for ‘one day’ this summer.
Miami has been pushing for that decision for a long time, with meetings continuing through the winter. Jorge and Jose Mas – the brothers who co-own Inter Miami with Beckham – had negotiations and several meetings with Messi’s father, Jorge.
Messi owns a home in Miami and regularly spends time in South Florida. Miami has roster space (or “designated player spot”, in MLS parlance) ready for Messi, and could create additional space to add a player like Sergio Busquets.
MLS Commissioner Dan Garber said Athletic It would take a creative deal to happen in March, but the league and Inter Miami are willing to flex to find the right compensation package to land Messi.
The ball, in many ways, is in Messi’s court.
Stay at PSG?
Messi’s stay in Paris is coming to an end.
After his World Cup triumph with Argentina in Doha in December, the thought of him leaving the Qatari-owned club for 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 on after a slow first campaign at his new club.
But since then, the mood has changed significantly. PSG’s run has taken a nosedive this calendar year alone with nine defeats and a Champions League round of 16 exit by Bayern Munich.
Messi was not personally at fault in this, but he was symptomatic of a poor team-building that made the club unfit to contend on all fronts. In the wake of Messi’s success, the club’s post-World Cup malaise hasn’t helped.
For the player, this period of his career will be bruising and it is now topped by this club sanction. The fans’ passion turned on him and his name was whistled at the Parc des Princes before matches. Feelings among supporters in Paris centered around suggestions that he had not invested in his time at Barcelona; A point reinforced only by the team’s poor form since the start of the year. Persistent rumors of a possible return to the Catalan club have fueled that fire as well.
Now that he has been made an example of in Paris, rebuilding relations seems impossible. For the player, staying in Paris is no longer convenient.
PSG will want to focus on building around Kylian Mbappe and take advantage of the huge amount of talent that exists within the French game. It signals an end to their emphasis on ‘bling’ and big names (and a big wage bill), and it also signals a desire to cut loose from Messi.
(Top image: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)