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Lionel Messi’s Next Chapter: Where Will the GOAT Go Next?

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Boardroom breaks down the possibilities, from Saudi Arabia to Miami and beyond, as Lionel Messi ponders his decision.

The upcoming decision as to where Lionel Messi will play his club soccer next season is going to change the sporting world. That’s not hyperbole.

We know Messi won’t continue his career in Paris. His two-year, €127.28 million contract with Paris Saint-Germain will expire at the end of the month and the club announced last week that the soccer GOAT won’t return. After two Ligue 1 titles but two Round of 16 exits in the UEFA Champions League, Messi was suspended last month for going AWOL at team training sessions to fulfill a well-paid sponsorship obligation as a Saudi Arabia tourism ambassador.

Not coincidentally, Saudi Arabia offers the most lucrative next stop for Messi, who turns 36 on June 24.

A report from French publication Foot Mercato claims that Messi will accept a two-year offer from Saudi club Al-Hilal for an insane $1.3 billion (no, that’s not a typo). He’d join Cristiano Ronaldo, whose Al-Nassr contract pays him $75 million per season, and Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid teammate, Karim Benzema, who is reportedly close to a two-year contract with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad worth upwards of €100 million per season. The overture is part of a reported $1 billion plan by Saudi Arabia and its sovereign Public Investment Fund to recruit elite-level players around the world to boost its Saudi Pro League and the country’s efforts to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

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Indeed, Messi relocating to Saudi Arabia would help transform the perception of soccer in the region.

A potential deal with Major League Soccer and David Beckham‘s Inter Miami has the potential to do the same.

While a contract certainly wouldn’t be remotely rich as a Saudi offer by orders of magnitude — the highest-paid MLS players make about $5-6 million per season — journalist Guillem Ballague, who contributes to CBS Sports’ soccer coverage as well as other international gigs, reports an offer on the table from Major League Soccer and Miami would also include hefty endorsement deals with Apple and Adidas. With the former in the first year of a 10-year, $2.5 billion global deal to broadcast MLS matches on its Apple TV subscription service and the latter serving as a longtime league sponsor and kit manufacturer, both of these massive corporations would definitely be incentivized to bring Messi to MLS and see their respective investments in the league massively prosper at a whole new level.

And then, of course, there’s FC Barcelona, Messi’s boyhood club from the age of 13.

Barça’s financial issues prevented Messi from remaining at the club beyond the 2021 season, landing him at PSG on a free transfer two years ago in the first place. There’s clearly still mutual interest, however, with the player’s father and agent, Jorge Messi, having met with Barcelona club president Joan Laporta as recently as Sunday.

“Of course, he would love to return to Barcelona,” Jorge told reporters. “I would like it too. We will see.”

The looming question is exactly the same as it was two years ago: Does Barcelona have the ability to pay Messi anything close to his market value and still stay within the salary cap regulations La Liga imposed upon the club? Still carrying a heavy debt load, the team still committed to more than €250 million in annual salaries last season, per Capology. For that reason, juxtaposed with the gaudy figures the Saudis are offering, makes a Barcelona reunion seems unlikely at this point, but the emotional connection could ultimately prove to be a wild card.

If Messi signs to play in either Saudi Arabia or the United States, it will revolutionize the soccer landscape of either country and make the Argentinian GOAT a whole lot of money through combined salary and business and marketing opportunities. No matter where he goes, however, this summer’s Lionel Messi decision will change global sports and the billions who follow them.

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