Time is running out for Inter Miami and MLS to woo soccer demigod Lionel Messi to South Florida or even North America. The Argentine star's contract ends in June, and the only thing that seems certain at this point is that he will not re-sign with Paris Saint-Germain.
The Ligue Un giants have suspended Messi two weeks without pay for his unauthorized visit to Saudi Arabia after PSG's upset loss to FC Lorient this weekend.
The Saudi minister of tourism, Ahmed al Khateeb, posted a welcome message to Messi on Twiter Monday and on Tuesday posted more
photos of Messi and his family during their visit to the country. The Saudis are paying Messi to be a tourism ambassador for the oil-rich nation as it campaigns to land the 2030 World Cup, but Inter Miami fans are all too aware of 400 million other reasons the global superstar may have been touring the country: Saudi professional soccer team Al-Hilal has offered Messi that many Euros to join Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League. That equates to about $438 million.
Still, it ain't over 'til it's over. Besides Al-Hilal, the only other teams thought to be on Messi's short list are Barcelona -- where he began as a youth, spent most of his career and became arguably the world's greatest soccer player -- and L'il Ol' Inter Miami.
Neither of those teams can compete with Al-Hilal's checkbook -- Barcelona let Messi go before the 2021-22 season because of financial difficulties and MLS kinda sorta enforces a salary cap -- but both offer different attractions. La Blaugrana, a Barca nickname because of the team's dark blue and garnet colors -- offer nostalgia and the adoration of a worldwide fanbase. In Barcelona, Messi can reunite with his past and enjoy his association with one of the greatest club team's of all time.
In Miami, Messi can find a new and different challenge -- embrace David Beckham's dream to build La Rosanegra (we have Spanish nicknames, too) into a truly global brand and, in so doing, hopefully, bring Inter Miami success on the pitch and MLS greater respect worldwide. Admittedly, it's a tall order, but if any player can make it happen, it's Leo. Just ask Don Garber, who told a gathering of the Associated Press Sports Editors on April 25 that Messi "can be bigger than any athlete of any sport that has ever played here in the United States.”
Garber has said MLS will "work very hard" to bring Messi into the league. In the past, MLS has changed the rules in order to let the LA Galaxy sign Inter Miami owner David Beckham in 2007 -- fortunately for Herons supporters, an opportunity to own a franchise was part of that deal.
Messi does have a home in the Miami area, is friendly with Beckham and has expressed interest in playing in MLS. One day. I feel like, at 35 and having won a World Cup last winter with Argentina, the highly competitive star will want to continue testing himself against the best teams and players in the world. Unless he returns to his homeland, that means Europe.
Nothing is settled, of course, but I'm bracing myself for Leo to return to Spain, or maybe an as-yet unidentified Premier League side -- but I'd love to be wrong.