The Messi Effect is real and could enable more blockbuster MLS moves from top global stars. As the transfer rumor mill turns, let’s talk Mbappé and Neymar.
MessiMania is everywhere across the American sporting landscape and global soccer at large — and for good reason.
Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami and Major League Soccer on a free transfer and made his debut just a couple short weeks ago, bringing old FC Barcelona friends Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba with him along the way. In just four Leagues Cup matches as of this writing, the footballing GOAT has scored an eye-popping seven goals. He’s already atop the Herons’ season leaderboard thanks to a run featuring multiple jaw-dropping free kicks.
MLS and streaming partner Apple have done an impressive job marketing Messi so far, too, with Inter Miami’s social feeds growing at explosive rates as subscriptions to Apple’s MLS Season Pass took a leap in step with the legendary Argentine’s stateside arrival. Now, Some of the world’s biggest stars are taking notice of the unique opportunity America presents — most notably, Messi’s former Paris Saint-Germain teammates Kylian Mbappé and Neymar.
Like Messi before them, neither superstar is understood to be happy with his current roles at the French club, both are reportedly interested in MLS to some degree, and Mbappé in particular is the subject of more rumors this week from the Glasgow-based Daily Record about the curious feasibility of a stateside swoop.
It’s all a rather insane turnaround for a league that’s dreamt of this very scenario for decades. However, there are some major hurdles that stand in the way of the French World Cup winner and the Brazilian star man joining Lucky Leo in MLS.
Most notably, the league’s own rules!
Major League Soccer’s “secondary transfer window,” by which under-contract can be bought or traded to other clubs, came and went on Aug. 2. Players currently out of contract can still sign with the league’s 29 clubs until rosters freeze on Sept. 15. Mbappé’s contract with PSG runs until next June, while Neymar won’t hit free agency until 2025.
Technically, the Parisian club could mutually agree to part ways with either player and tear up their contracts, making them free agents; that’s not remotely likely at this time. However, if we’ve learned anything over 27 years of Major League Soccer, it’s that its rules are meant to be broken when a transformative opportunity like this rolls around.
David Beckham wants to come to LA Galaxy? Let’s make up some new rules to bring him aboard — the birth of the designated player rule, specifically — and give him the option to buy a future MLS team at a heavy discount, which turned out to be Inter Miami.
No single MLS club can actually afford to pay Messi his fair market value under current salary rules? Let’s hand him a share of revenues from MLS Season Pass subscriptions and a massive deal with league partner Adidas, accusations of cap circumvention be damned.
As things stand, Mbappé or Neymar are under contract, which means a PSG buyout or a massive transfer fee would be required to land them this year. If that was indeed doable, however, you can bet that any procedural red tape on the MLS side would be done away with post-haste. At that point, spirited and raucous discussions would rage over which MLS club could or should sign each player, how it all affects the league’s insistence on competitive balance, and whether either player would also demand a Messi-like revenue share of some kind with Apple, Adidas, or some other MLS partner.
In short, while rules are in place that would seemingly prevent prime-era, superstar-level players under contract from coming to MLS until after the 2023 season, rules are meant to be broken in this part of the world when it comes to the foremost icons of the Beautiful Game.
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