Lionel Messi to MLS: Why it’s now or never for a transfer from PSG to Inter Miami

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Lionel Messi has a big decision to make this summer.

Barring a shock contract renewal with PSG, which has not been discussed in recent weeks, the reigning FIFA Player of the Year and World Cup MVP should be a free agent in June and clearly has options, even at 36 years of age.

But not all are equal.

Among the most talked about destinations are Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia and their reported $438 million annual salary, a “Last Dance” return with cash-strapped Barcelona or a potential move to the biggest market of all in North America. preparing for the 2026 Men’s World Cup to be held on the continent.

As Messi, his family and his father, who also serves as his agent, sit down to plan the next and potentially final stop in his storied career, there’s one factor that should weigh heavily on which of the three doors they choose: It’s Now or never. if he wants to play in the US.

Why it’s now or never for Messi to MLS

Messi turns 36 in June, and while age is just a number as the saying goes, it’s clear to everyone who has followed his career that although his skill and touch are still world-class, and he played out of his mind in Qatar, he’s definitely lost a step and has adapted his game to make up for it.

As we’ve witnessed with Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s the most obvious sign that the window is beginning to close with every passing season.

The richest contract in pro sports history with Al Hilal, or the allure of a Last Dance 2023/24 season with Barcelona would understandably be tempting for different reasons, but they would also definitively kill any realistic chance of playing in North America.

Of the three leagues being discussed — Saudi Arabia, Spain, and USA/Canada — Major League Soccer is the most physically demanding for the travel involved, the different climatic conditions across regions, and the intensity of the games themselves. The salary cap structure makes for greater parity among MLS teams and more evenly matched, hard-fought games.

Plus, Messi will also be a marked man, which means the games won’t come easy for him. And he’ll inevitably require a period of adaptation, which we’ve seen most European-based stars struggle with, before ultimately hitting their stride.

Messi’s former Argentina World Cup teammate Gonzalo Higuain recently experienced that learning curve with Inter Miami before having his best season in 2022. And he was two years younger than Messi will be this June.

It’s an obvious point: The younger Messi is, the better the chance he’ll have at meeting the above challenges in MLS. That means the jump to MLS would need to happen this summer.

If Messi wants to make a splash in the USA and maximize his commercial opportunities — which will be many with a World Cup on American soil on the horizon — he’ll want to put his best foot forward. There’s no better scenario than coming off a World Cup triumph, a double-digit goals and assists season with PSG, and a Q-rating that will never be higher.

But if Messi delays the move to the USA by a year (at 37) — or even by two (at age 38) if he signs a multi-year deal somewhere else — and continues to show he’s slowing down, the increasingly sophisticated U.S. soccer market will be smart to it.

The market conditions for success in the USA will never be better for Messi than they are now if he wants his name to be remembered with Pele and David Beckham as the stars who changed the game in the States.

So far in the early stages of the 2023 Major League Soccer season there have been just five players aged 37 or older who have appeared in a game. Two of them are goalkeepers, one is central defender Giorgio Chiellini, and the other two have shown themselves to be incredibly durable athletes (forward Kei Kamara at 38 and midfielder Diego Chara at 37).

Sure, he could always come to the USA in a few years, but it probably wouldn’t be as a player: He’d probably have to settle for being an investor or owner. And by then a stake in a team would be much more expensive than if he brokered it this summer as part of a player contract.

 

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