Lionel Messi’s future is one of the most hotly debated topics in world football right now, with arguably the greatest player of all time set to become a free agent at the end of the 2022-23 season.
And the debate was sent into overdrive after reports on Wednesday that Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Hilal were preparing an eye-watering £194million-a-year deal to follow his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo to the Middle East.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner had looked set to extend his stay at PSG after winning the 2022 World Cup, but negotiations appear to have stalled and with the French giants failing to reach the latter stages of the Champions League, Messi will perhaps be considering his options.
The Argentine legend is not short of potential destinations either, with rumours having linked him with numerous clubs from around the world, including Inter Miami in the MLS, a return to Barcelona in LaLiga – and even a switch to his boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys.
But which club is most likely to snap up the 35-year-old? Here Sportsmail rates the chances of each of the prospective clubs looking to land Messi’s signature for 2023-24.
Lionel Messi’s future is far from clear with his current contract at PSG expiring at the end of the season
Al-Hilal are set to offer Messi a lucrative £194m-a-season deal to move to Saudi Arabia
Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Pro-League has already seen one generational world-beater join their ranks in Ronaldo, who joined Al-Nassr on a £175m-a-year deal, but Al-Hilal are reportedly set to rekindle that rivalry by mounting a bid for Messi.
Messi is still operating at a frightening level, having won the World Cup and has 18 goals and 17 assists for PSG in all competitions. His brilliance is far from dwindling, with the Argentine proving he can still compete at the highest level. He is valued at around £44m in spite of his age and contract status.
But his father – and more importantly, his agent – Jorge was pictured in Saudi Arabia in recent days, with reports claiming this is a sign that negotiations between the two parties are not far away. Jorge is also an ambassador for Saudi Arabia, sparking suggestions that he was merely there for commercial reasons.
It is not just the club that are keen to land the Argentine but the country itself is thought to be clamouring to get the move over the line. According to Spanish outlet Marca, Saudi Arabian politicians are willing to change laws in order to facilitate a deal for Messi.
There is not a football fan alive that would not want to see a reprise of perhaps football’s greatest on-field rivalry, and if there is one division that can put up the financial offer to compete with PSG, it is the Saudi Pro League. The presence of Messi’s father-agent could suggest that an offer is now much closer to materialising, although the player has remained tight-lipped over what his future might hold.
Kylian Mbappe’s contract is up in 2024, and PSG will likely prioritise a renewal of their talisman’s stay before turning to Messi, which could leave the door wide open for Al-Hilal to swoop.
Whether or not the player will be open to the prospect of leaving the European stage is still unclear, but the offer Al-Hilal are rumoured to be preparing could prove very hard to ignore.
Likelihood of a move: 6/10
Marca reports that Saudi Arabian politicians would be prepared to change laws to land Messi
His father and agent Jorge (centre) has been spotted in Riyadh in recent days
Messi could be set to renew his rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo if he moves to Saudi Arabia
Barcelona’s name continues to be linked with their most famous servant despite the high-profile financial crisis that the Catalan giants find themselves in.
Barca have proven themselves to be competitive this season, currently leading the charge for their first LaLiga title since 2018-19 under Messi’s former team-mate Xavi, but failure to get past the group stages and elimination in the play-off of the Europa League will hardly have caught the Argentine’s eye.
As a result, it is almost certain that Messi will not fulfil the hopes of every football romantic and return to the club where he first exploded onto the scene. Barca have had enough issues registering their own players this season to even come close to convincing LaLiga to allow Messi back to the Nou Camp.
Barca were told earlier in March that they were effectively banned from entering the transfer market by president Javier Tebas, and that they must raise £178m just to comply with the Spanish top-flight’s financial rules. The focus at the Catalan giants will be on ushering bodies out the door, rather than bringing back former legends – regardless of Joan Laporta’s desires.
For Messi to return, he would need to forego any signing bonus, agree to wages that were a fraction of his previous earnings at the club, and turn down lucrative bids from Saudi Arabia, the USA and PSG. Not to mention the near-£200m the club needs to raise in transfer fees.
Messi’s love of Barca is well-known, but even his love comes at a price – and it’s one that Laporta and Co are most probably unable to afford.
Likelihood of a move: 2/10
Joan Laporta believes that Messi still has Barca in his heart despite leaving the club in 2021
Barcelona are unlikely to land Messi this summer given the financial ruin at the club despite his long association
Inter Miami, USA
Prior to the 2022 World Cup, the majority of the talk around Messi’s future was linking him with a move to the MLS, specifically David Beckham’s Inter Miami, although those rumours have since been put on the back-burners.
Those links began with the creation of Inter Miami in 2018, after which the Argentine told Beckham: ‘Maybe in a few years you can give me a call!’
Current boss Phil Neville has been consistent in his comments on Messi, and recently described the 35-year-old’s hypothetical arrival as the ‘biggest signing in history’, but much like the prospect of joining Al-Hilal, he would not be arriving at a team ready for instant success, with Inter Miami currently fourth in the Eastern Conference.
But the MLS are still fighting their corner fiercely, with rumours arising earlier in March that the league would reportedly compensate Messi’s family, with league commissioner Don Garber outlining his potential plan to lure the 35-year-old across the Atlantic.
‘You’re dealing with perhaps the most special player in the history of the game. So when there are rumours of him connected to Miami, that’s great,’ Garber told The Athletic.
‘And if it could happen, it would be terrific for MLS, it would be terrific for Messi and his family, and like everything with us, we try to run every opportunity down. I can’t give any more details than that because we don’t have them.’
‘We’re gonna have to structure a deal that’s going to compensate him in ways that he and his family expect.
‘What that is? Honestly, we don’t know today, but he’s probably not going to be a [targeted allocation money] player.’
Another pro in the MLS outfit’s favour is the fact that Messi would find a South American contingent already at the club, with compatriots Nicolas Stefanelli and Franco Negri regularly starting, alongside Brazil’s Jean Mota and Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez. The Argentinian FA are also building a high-performance centre in Miami.
The MLS appear keen to make a move happen – although that is not necessarily specific to Inter Miami – and he would find several South Americans at the club, while he is sure to be offered a sufficiently lucrative deal and a chance to retire in the luxury that the Florida city – where he already owns property.
Inter Miami seems the most likely of the four destinations for the PSG star, should he leave the Parisian mega club.
Likelihood of a move: 8/10
Phil Neville said that a potential move for Lionel Messi to Inter Miami would be ‘bigger’ than when David Beckham moved to MLS
Messi hasn’t committed to anywhere in particular for his future and is considering many options
Neville also said that ‘things will be different’ if Messi moved there to protect him and others
Newell’s Old Boys, Argentina
Barcelona seems like a romantic option, but a return to boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys surely trumps that prospect in the same regard.
Some 23 years after departing the Argentinian club that has produced Albiceleste legends Marcelo Bielsa, Mauricio Pochettino, Maxi Rodriguez and of course national hero Diego Maradona, Messi could return to the club where it all began.
Messi paid tribute to Diego Maradona with a Newell’s Old Boys shirt while at Barcelona
Messi has himself spoken of a desire to play once more for Newell’s in the past, but the dream may turn into something of a nightmare, judging by the ominous threats that his family have received. A grocery store owned by the family of his wife Antonela Roccuzzo was shot up and a gunman left a note reading: ‘Messi, we’re waiting for you.’
The 35-year-old never actually represented the club at senior level, but that is sure to be a record that he would like to set right before hanging up his boots for good, and despite the ominous note, the Newell’s fanbase begged the Barcelona star to return back in 2020.
According to Sergio Aguero, Messi’s long-time friend and former international team-mate, he is weighing up the possibility of a move back to Rosario, claiming in a UOL interview: He is seriously considering the possibility of playing for Newell’s.’
And having just guided the Albiceleste to their third World Cup glory – and first in 38 years – in Qatar, Messi’s stock back home has likely never been higher, and perhaps a rise in personal patriotism could see the forward return to a hero’s welcome with the celebrations still surely continuing.
While the standard of football would likely be more competitive than that of the MLS, and a return to Rosario sure to leave Messi and family in a more familiar, Spanish-speaking environment than a switch to the Saudi Pro-League, the financial offers of the former two would likely delay the Argentine’s return home.
Likelihood of a move: 5/10
Messi began his career as a youth with boyhood side Newell’s in his hometown of Rosario
The Newell’s stadium is named after former player and manager Marcelo Bielsa – a club legend