Where will Lionel Messi play next? Although the Argentina international is staying for a second season with PSG, there’s already plenty of speculation about the next stage of his career.
The Barcelona legend will be free to leave in June of 2023 when his contract with PSG expires, and there are several destinations that could tempt him. We asked our writers Sam Marsden, Rob Dawson, Tim Vickery, Jeff Carlisle and Julien Laurens to determine the odds of each of these possible moves.
Option 1: Return to Barcelona
A year is a long time in football and even longer at Barcelona. Could Messi, at the age of 36, make a sensational return to Camp Nou to say a proper farewell to Barca fans?
President Joan Laporta has said Messi could come back as a player only if it was for free, which will be the case next summer, so the decision would lie with coach Xavi Hernandez if the player wanted to pull on a Barca shirt again.
Xavi is trying to rebuild Barca from the ground up and, while exceptions might be made due to the club’s financial situation in the short term, he wants younger players who will press and harry for 90 minutes. He does not want one player who is exempt from certain duties, but Messi is Messi, and what he did at Barca — scoring 672 goals in 778 games; breaking records week after week — might never be repeated.
He still means so much to the club. Plus, he has shown for Argentina, if not yet for Paris Saint-Germain consistently, that he still has that spark others can only dream of. And then there is his relationship with Xavi. If he really wanted to come back, and if his wages were no longer a problem, it would be hard to say no.
But there is a feeling at Barca that Messi’s chapter as a player for the club has closed. It is expected that he will be back in the city he calls home sooner than later, but only once his boots have been hung up — he has said, for example, that he’d like to be a sporting director. But who knows where the Barca soap opera will be in 12 months’ time? Stranger things have happened over the last two years. — Marsden
The Premier League can offer Messi money and a challenge, but the question is whether he wants or needs either at this stage of his career.
Even in England, there are only a handful of clubs who could afford him; namely Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Newcastle. His links with Man City are obvious given his time at Barcelona with manager Pep Guardiola, as well as Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, but that ship might have already sailed.
For years, club bosses insisted that if Messi ever decided to leave Camp Nou they would be one of the first in the queue, but when it came to the crunch in the summer of 2021, they never made a move. City were seriously interested a year earlier in 2020, but Messi ultimately decided to stay at Barcelona. When he did eventually leave, City had moved on and PSG were allowed a relatively free run.
City have since invested heavily in younger forwards like Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland, and it’s doubtful whether they would change tack even for Messi — despite the massive commercial appeal of landing the Argentinian.
The lure of adding Messi to an already massive marketing machine would be a key consideration for Man United, but they are also a club trying to move away from throwing superstars into a mishmash of a squad. They poured money into moves for Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Cristiano Ronaldo, but that was under former executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. His successor, Richard Arnold, has transferred much of the football decision-making to football director John Murtough, who is trying to build a more balanced group of players for new boss Erik ten Hag after nearly a decade of recruitment mistakes.
Messi’s arrival at Old Trafford would excite the fans, but it would also look like another short-term decision rather than one aimed at long-term success. Newcastle’s new money and Chelsea’s new owners make both potential options, but seeing Messi in the Premier League remains unlikely. — Dawson
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Option 3: Homecoming to Newell’s Old Boys
Over the years, Messi has nurtured a dream of rounding it off where it all began, going back to his native city of Rosario and ending his career with Newell’s Old Boys, the club he left at the age of 13. However, it might be one of those ideas that is better left as a dream because the closer it seems as a genuine possibility, the more remote it appears.
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From the point that he fell out with Barcelona, his fans in his home country gleefully picked up on the perception that the national team had become his No. 1 priority. But, for a couple of reasons, that might not translate into time spent in the domestic Argentine game.
One is whether he would enjoy the football. On his trips back across the Atlantic, Messi has had frequent cause to criticise the standard of South American pitches. He has been brought up on perfect playing surfaces, in a style of football where the spectacle is almost as important as the result. He has never played the “win at all costs” football which has such a hold on the contemporary South American club game.
And then there is his family. Rosario might be his native city, but the same does not apply to his children, who love Barcelona and have been developing a relationship with Paris.
South American players who have spent lengthy spells in Europe often have problems with their kids when they move back. The continent might be home to the father, but it is not home to his children, unaccustomed to the level of social violence that, for example, saw Emerson Royal of Tottenham in the midst of a gun battle last week after a firearm was pointed at him when he was on holiday back in Brazil.
Argentine players have experienced similar things. Because of Messi’s status, there would be no hiding place for his kids, especially in a provincial city such as Rosario. They would be living in a goldfish bowl — with an ever-present fear that the glass might crack.
So when his time in Europe comes to an end, a spell in the United States might well be the most likely scenario. The pressure will not be so intense, on both the footballer and the father. — Vickery
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens give their take on Lionel Messi after the forward has endured a difficult first season in Paris.
Option 4: Move to MLS
It’s the rumour that simply won’t go away: Messi is bound for Inter Miami.
Messi teased the possibility back in January of 2018, when he sent club co-owner David Beckham a congratulatory video after Inter Miami finally got word they would begin play in 2020. The two sides have been batting their eyelashes at each other ever since and, as recently as three weeks ago, Messi was reported to be Miami-bound in the summer of 2023 — along with a 35% interest in the team. That report was ultimately shot down, but a possible move makes sense.
Messi owns a condo worth $7.6m in Miami Beach, and he might feel it’s the perfect place to spend the last two or three years of his playing career before, say, returning to Barcelona in an ambassador role. His presence would certainly give Miami and MLS a jolt of publicity as the excitement for the sport ahead of the 2026 World Cup — which the U.S. is co-hosting with Canada and Mexico — begins to ramp up.
MLS does have its share of experience in bringing iconic players to the league, be it Beckham, Thierry Henry or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Even if Messi’s salary were to be in the tens of millions — meaning he would earn several multiples more than the Chicago Fire’s Xherdan Shaqiri, at present the league’s highest-paid player — he would be worth every penny.
So will Messi land stateside? It seems a long shot. The draw of returning to Barcelona is as powerful as the tractor beam on the Death Star, and a swansong with his longtime club seems the right move emotionally.
This is also a player used to playing with the best, and that reality has tested the patience of many a foreign superstar. But Miami managing partner Jorge Mas is a man used to getting what he wants, no matter how long he has to wait. If he can wait 3½ years to get a stadium deal with the city of Miami pushed through, what’s a few more years for a cash bonanza like Messi? This much is certain: Mas, along with Beckham, will keep trying. — Carlisle
Option 5: Stay at PSG
When Messi signed for PSG on a free transfer last summer, in what will go down as one of the biggest transfers of all time, the desire from the French club was to secure him to a contract for three straight years. In the end they had to settle for a two-year deal with the option for another, but right now the plan is to keep him in Paris for that third year.
It will depend a lot on how his second season in the French capital goes, but there are high hopes within the club that if Messi enjoys next season, he will want to continue the adventure.
His first campaign was a bit underwhelming at times because he needed time to adapt to a new life and new surroundings, and because he didn’t shine (or score) as much as he used to at Barcelona with 11 goals and 15 assists from his 34 games. But he finished the season well and has already said himself that he expects his second year at the club to be much improved. If that is the case, and if he feels that he is still competitive and that the team can help him win another Champions League trophy, then there will be more of a chance that he sticks around.
Financially he is massive for PSG, and another season with Messi means more money coming in. The MNM (Messi, Neymar, Mbappe) trio adds huge marketing value for the Parisians and, from the club’s point of view, it is important that Messi stays for a third year.
PSG still believe they have more of a chance to win the Champions League with him in their squad than without him. — Laurens