Lionel Messi next club: Barcelona return claim, £350m Al-Hilal offer, PSG future ‘certain’

Lionel Messi’s future is up for discussion once again after he was suspended by PSG this week.
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It could be the most hotly-anticipated transfer saga involving a real life alien since the US government tried to snatch E.T. away from Elliott; Lionel Messi, extra-terrestrial, is once again inspiring speculation over his future.

For the longest time, this kind of chatter would have been deemed unimaginable; Messi was a Barcelona player, and a Barcelona player he was expected to remain for the entirety of his career. Then the Catalan giants ran into the kind of financial issues usually reserved for the subjects of Channel 5 documentaries about teenage lottery winners, and suddenly the Argentine was off to Paris Saint-Germain.

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His time in the French capital has been mixed, diplomatically speaking. On the pitch, Messi has been his usual otherworldly self; this season alone he has made 30 goal contributions in 28 Ligue 1 outings. But matters elsewhere have been more complicated. At various points he has been derided by his own fanbase amid simmering rumours over his departure, and PSG themselves took the decision to suspend the 35-year-old this week after he made a trip to Saudi Arabia without the club’s permission. Turns out pitting new age oil baron against new age oil baron can be slippery business.

And this latest kerfuffle got us thinking about what might become of Messi this summer. Will he stick it out in Paris? Will he don a red hoodie, hop into the front basket of a bicyle and soar off elsewhere, or will he fulfil that most quintessential of E.T. tropes and phone home with a return to Barcelona? We’ve examined the options below...

Lionel Messi has been suspended by two weeks by PSGLionel Messi has been suspended by two weeks by PSG
Lionel Messi has been suspended by two weeks by PSG

PSG

When Messi joined PSG in 2021, there was a general feeling that he would really rather not have. His adoration for Barcelona was evident, and a series of tearful farewell press conferences felt more like the reciting of vows at a shotgun wedding than a man boldly embarking on a new, exciting chapter in his career.

Fast forward to this week, and it would seem that the relationship between Messi and his current employers has severely broken down. According to reports, the South American asked for permission to travel to Saudi Arabia for commercial purposes, was refused, and then went anyway. PSG, for their part, believe that a suspension is merely an appropriate punishment for an employee who has openly defied their wishes.

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As to whether the differences between the two parties are reconcilable, Simon Stone of BBC Sport is not so sure. He said: “Lionel Messi has taken a decision that effectively calls time on his Paris St-Germain career.

“Yes, they have three games left after Messi’s suspension has been completed and there is work remaining to secure another Ligue 1 title, but PSG are on a different course now - and it does not involve Messi, who less than five months ago achieved the crowning glory of his stellar career by lifting the World Cup.

“PSG do not view their actions as being anything extraordinary. In their minds they are effectively punishing an employee who has gone somewhere else on a work day miles away from where he is supposed to be. But they also feel it is a statement about the future direction of the club, which they are adamant will be around younger players. It is also confirmation of their zero-tolerance approach to discipline. PSG’s fans don’t want Messi any more. It is certain his contract will not be renewed.”

As things stand, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner’s current deal in France expires at the end of the season.

Barcelona

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So then, if Messi is not going to stay in Paris, where will he end up? The most touted outcome is likely to be a return to Barcelona, the club that the Argentine so clearly and unapologetically loves.

Messi made 975 goals contributions in 778 matches for the Catalan giants, and will comfortably go down as the greatest player in Barca’s history. As long as he is capable of lacing up his boots, there will surely be a place for him in the dressing room at Camp Nou. Would the finances allow it, however? Honestly, maybe not.

After a series of monetary mishaps, Barca had hoped that they would be able to work in tandem with La Liga chiefs to help balance their books. By now, we’re all well-acquainted with the palancas, or ‘financial levers’, that have helped the club to bring in desperately-needed funds while still complying with Financial Fair Play regulations. But the need to cut costs is still apparent, with some outlets suggesting that Camp Nou chiefs need to find a way of saving as much £307 million in the coming months. In short, there is not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to funding Messi’s potential homecoming.

To make matters worse, Spanish publication Sport claim that the relevant authorities have rejected a ‘feasibility plan’ that was intended to help the club spread the necessary cost-cutting measures across three years - and this in turn could have catastrophic consequences for their hopes of re-signing Messi.

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Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, has not minced his words when discussing the Argentine and his potential return to Catalonia. Speaking last month, he said: “Barca must take many financial measures to undertake Messi’s registration. They need lot of effort to make it happen. Today I don’t see his signing as feasible. But there’s a lot of time left, Barca can still make moves to get Leo. They need a big effort to make it happen.”

Elsewhere

So, if not Paris, and if not Barcelona, where then? As things stand, there are three particularly intriguing options. The first, and perhaps the one that will garner the most attention in the immediate future, is Al-Hilal in the Saudi Pro-League. Messi, as discussed already, has strong ties to the Middle East, and in terms of a financial incentive, there are few clubs who could offer him the kind of wage packet that Al-Hilal could. Reports suggest that any potential deal could be worth as much £350 million per year.

If, by some miraculous display of monastic self-discipline, however, Messi can resist the lure of such riches, another possible destination would be Inter Miami in the MLS. The franchise, co-owned by David Beckham, have regularly been discussed as the next step in the Argentine’s long and storied career, but the effort to take him to America transcends the wants and needs of just one club.

Even MLS commissioner Don Garber has been talking up the possibility of a transfer in recent weeks. “I can tell you that we would love him in Major League Soccer,” Garber told CBS Sports. “I think of him as someone who crosses so many barriers that he can be bigger than any athlete of any sport that has ever played here in the United States.

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“We will work very hard with Miami, who is the team that is hoping to be able to sign him. We have been pretty effective at coming up with clever ways to sign players for our clubs in the right market.” Never say never, then...

And finally, what of the romantic option? Long before he was a Barcelona player, Messi was on the books at Newell’s Old Boys back in his native Argentina, and his good friend Sergio Aguero believes that he could be interested in a return after 22 years away from his childhood club.

Speaking to Brazilian outlet UOL, the former Manchester City striker revealed his pal is “is seriously considering the possibility of playing for Newell’s [Old Boys].”

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