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SPORTS | 03-05-2023 23:43

Barça, Saudi Arabia, Miami, Rosario.. where next for Lionel Messi?

Argentina captain set to depart Paris St Germain when his contract expires at the end of June and the race for his signature is heating up.

Argentina’s captain is being courted by clubs from Saudi Arabia to the United States, while his favoured Barcelona are also dreaming of the return of their idol – despite the financial obstacles facing such a transfer.​

Where next for Lionel Messi?

 

The romantic option: Barcelona

Now in the final stretch of his contract with Paris SG, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner has been negotiating for some time with his old club Barça, according to the specialised press.

The Argentine megastar would welcome a return to the Catalan capital at the age of 36 (his birthday is on June 24) and the Camp Nou has made no secret they want the same: on several occasions in recent weeks, the stadium has chanted the name of its idol.

Nevertheless, following through with the transfer would be complex for Barcelona, who face severe financial problems. 

The club is reportedly awaiting approval from La Liga of its new financial plan, which also includes the renewal of contracts for stars such as Gavi, Ronald Araujo, Marcos Alonso and Sergi Roberto, as well as the potential return of Messi. 

But in order to sign these players without exceeding the salary cap, Barça still need to reduce their spending by 200 million euros.

One of the club's first decisions in pursuit of that goal was to announce the closure of its television channel BarçaTV on 30 June.

According to the club, the channel is making a loss of 13 million euros a year, but according to employees who work there, losses haven’t exceeded six million euros.

La Liga President Javier Tebas showed his scepticism about the Argentine's return to Barça on Friday on RMC Sports: "As of today, Messi's return to Barça seems complicated to me. Barça is not like PSG, who have a gas and money tap."

 

The cash option: Saudi Arabia

Pairing Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo together in the Saudi league and making it a showcase for the promotion of Saudi Arabia's bid to host a World Cup in the coming years: the challenge is huge but seems within the reach of the Gulf country's economic muscle.

Already under contract with the Saudi tourism board to promote the country on social networks, the Argentine star is also being courted to sign up to play in the local championship, potentially recreating Messi’s legendary rivalry with 'CR7', who has been playing for Al-Nassr since the last January transfer window.

In recent days, several media outlets have reported the existence of a stratospheric offer from Al-Hilal  to lure the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, estimated to be at an eye-watering 400 million euros per year. Saudi Arabia is also hoping to win Messi’s support for its bid to host the 2030 World Cup with Egypt and Greece, which has yet to be formally launched. 

Yet Ronaldo is already said to be unhappy in the Middle East after just three months, disappointed by the quality of the league. Most think Messi will reject the offer, preferring not to resign himself to an uncompetitive league, especially when he wants to be in good form for the Copa América 2024 with Argentina, potentially his last major international tournament.

 

The family option: Miami

A potential move to the United States and Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami, based in Florida, has long been rumoured. In many ways, it fits a pattern: a new challenge in a North American championship with a long tradition as a destination for great South American stars at the end of their careers. 

Kaká, Gonzalo Higuaín and Douglas Costa have all ended their careers in the US and this option has the advantage of bringing Messi closer to the rest of his family in Argentina. The star also has property there.

Former PSG player David Beckham is also one of the owners of the Florida franchise and the Englishman was spotted a few days ago at the Camp des Loges, PSG's training centre, where he posed with Messi for photos.

"I'm not going to deny that there is some truth in the rumours of an interest in Leo Messi," Inter Miami coach Phil Neville admitted in late February. "For the MLS, it would be a turning point.”

Messi’s arrival to the MLS would help push the league’s brand into a new level, but again, the issue is competitiveness. Argentina’s skipper is believed to be keen on continuing to play at the highest level.

 

The Argentine option: Rosario

Perhaps the most unlikely option on the list is a return to Rosario and his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys.

Long tipped as the most romantic option on the list, Argentina’s Liga Profesional de Fútbol is not a top-tier league, nor could it even afford a tenth of Messi’s current salary in Paris (let alone match the offer from Saudi Arabia). 

Messi, who famously wore a Newell's shirt under his Barcelona shirt for his first match following Diego Maradona's death, has been the subject of chants and banners from fans of the club and the club has always said the door is open – just don’t expect ‘La Pulga’ to walk through it anytime soon.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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