Paris Saint-Germain suspended Lionel Messi for two weeks after the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner missed training on Monday while in Saudi Arabia fulfilling his sponsorship contract as a Saudi ambassador.
Messi would be able to return for the club’s final two games of the season, but the punishment almost certainly closes the door on the remote possibility that he would be back in Paris for a third season. Messi’s next landing spot has been an ongoing parlor game for months, with Barcelona, Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal and MLS’ Inter Miami the most commonly speculated destinations.
Al Hilal would certainly offer the biggest payday; Messi would likely receive a nine-figure annual playing salary in the same league with Cristiano Ronaldo, who signed with Al Nassr in December after his own unceremonious split from Manchester United.
Messi, 35, is two years younger than Ronaldo and would likely have more options in Europe than the Portuguese star—with a chance to play for clubs competing for Champions League titles. Messi was at Barcelona from when he was 13 until he left in 2021, when the club hit financial struggles. LaLiga president Javier Tebas said the league would not bend its financial fair play rules to make room for Messi.
One league willing to tweak its rules to secure Messi’s services is MLS. “We will work very hard with Miami, who is the team that is hoping to be able to sign him,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said last week in a meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors. “We have been pretty effective at coming up with clever ways to sign players for our clubs in the right market.”
MLS famously attracted David Beckham in 2007 under a creative proposal. He was granted the rights to an expansion fee at a discounted $25 million. He exercised the option in 2014 when expansion fees had climbed to $100 million, and Inter Miami started play in 2020. Beckham owns the club with brothers Jorge and Jose Mas. The team is now worth $585 million and heading higher as its $1 billion stadium and real estate project moves ahead. It ranked No. 36 among the world’s most valuable soccer clubs.
“There are a lot of dynamics that are going on there,” Garber added. “He’s got a lot of things to think about in terms of where he wants to continue his career. … It’s very real-time, and I hope that we’re able to get in front of the discussion and hopefully bring something over the finish line.”
Messi already owns a home in Miami and has a lot of fans in the U.S. His current Q Score, which measures favorability, is 26 and tied for the highest among all athletes with Michael Jordan, Patrick Mahomes and Simone Biles.
Messi is one of just eight athletes who have earned at least $1 billion in salary and endorsements since turning. His $1.22 billion tally through the end of 2022 ranks fifth all-time unadjusted for inflation. Jordan leads at $2.37 billion, or an inflation-adjusted $3.3 billion.
Messi was third in Sportico’s look at the world’s highest-paid soccer players with $110 million. The tally includes nearly $50 million from sponsors Adidas, Budweiser, Mastercard, PepsiCo, Socios and at least 10 others.