Barnes doubtful Lionel Messi’s arrival will transform football in the United States


While John Barnes is unsure Lionel Messi will have a transformative impact on MLS, Gary McAllister believes the signing is a huge coup.

John Barnes is not convinced that the arrival of Lionel Messi will help propel MLS into one of the biggest sporting competitions in the United States.

Messi has joined Inter Miami, with the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner turning down a move to Saudi Arabia to head to MLS.

The 36-year-old, joined by Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba in Florida, is set to make his Miami debut in the Leagues Cup against Cruz Azul on Friday and the hype around his arrival has understandably been huge.

Still, former Liverpool star Barnes is unsure whether Messi is enough to make soccer as popular in the US as basketball or American football.

Barnes cited the global superstars who went to play in the US in the 1970s as an example of football’s failure to bridge the gap.

He told Stats Perform: “Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johann Cruyff went to America in the 1970s, three of the best players in the world, and what was the seismic shift then?

“So the fact that we now have some 35 and 36-year-old players, what’s the difference? It’s nothing new. There’s nothing new in life, in football.

“People forget that it happened before and of course the shift in football is not like in Saudi Arabia, it’s not about getting two or three superstars.

“It’s about developing other players and getting other players going there, not just paying a lot of money for two or three superstars.

“Yes, you can sell it all you want. But until our football surpasses basketball, American football and baseball, nothing will really change in America.”

“So I don’t see it really having an effect there.

However, Gary McAllister, another former Liverpool player, did not quite share Barnes’ sentiment.

McAllister believes Messi’s move to MLS is comparable to David Beckham’s move to LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007.

“I think with the pictures I’ve seen so far of his arrival, I think it’s similar to when David Beckham went to MLS as well,” McAllister said.

“It’s brought so much publicity to the sport in this country and it’s really grown, I think just looking at the diversity that’s out there.”

McAllister acknowledges football still has a ways to go to make it to the NFL or NBA.

He added: “He’s competing against sports that have been there for a very long time and are very established. But I think he’s still a player who has a lot to give and because he knows where he’s playing, there’s a lot of Hispanic influence in the game in the US, so I think he’ll bring the fans to the stadiums.”

“If you look at the overall attendance in the US and MLS, it’s definitely on the rise. And to land someone like Messi is a big coup for MLS and Miami as well.”

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