The media is certainly hyped about the prospect of Lionel Messi in MLS, while the level of interest amongst fans is bordering upon delirium. Make no mistake, this would be the biggest signing in the history of the league.
We’re not just talking about one of the 10 best soccer players of all time, we’re talking about the greatest soccer player of all time, although that also make the task of luring Messi to MLS an even bigger challenge. It would be an unprecedented move in many regards, even considering how much flexibility MLS demonstrated when it secured the landmark acquisition of David Beckham.
Still considered within the peak of his professional career at the time, landing Beckham required MLS to create the Designated Player Rule when he joined LA Galaxy in 2007. This allowed his new team to bypass their salary cap, while a host of additional provisions were made for the Englishman, including the option to buy an MLS expansion franchise.
Incredibly, this leads us full circle to where we are now, as Beckham, the Inter Miami president and co-owner, seeks to land Messi. And this is a potential connection which becomes all the more intriguing due to the respective soccer contributions of each personality over the years. Beckham certainly made his mark on MLS, while merely by speculative association, Messi now does the same. But what if he actually does arrive?
Breaking new frontiers in MLS
“You’re dealing with perhaps the most special player in the history of the game,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said, when The Athletic probed him about the potential for Messi to join Inter Miami.
Beyond what could become the biggest salary package in MLS history, Garber suggested MLS would need to think “outside the box” to get any move for Messi over the line, hinting the league itself will offer all the help they can. He recognizes that smashing any previous wage packet records may be required, “with Ronaldo at $100 million” following the Portuguese icon’s recent move to Saudi Arabian club Al Nasser.
Garber claims that right now, “we don’t know” how much it would take to get Messi, although clearly, he remains open to all possible avenues, which might imply potential franchise ownership like Beckham. But any such move could also be tied to a much bigger picture, aimed at promoting the continued growth and consistently rising profile of MLS itself.
2026 FIFA World Cup
One key event could shape the next destination for Messi, despite speculation surrounding his future with the Argentina national team. He reiterated after the semifinals win against Croatia that the 2022 FIFA World Cup would be his last major international tournament. Lifting the famous golden trophy, the only one that previously eluded him throughout such an illustrious career, may well have changed that perspective.
“I love soccer and what I do. I enjoy being on the national team, I want to continue living a few more games as world champion,” Messi told TyC Sports, immediately after his team had won the tournament. This immediately led to speculation that he may continue to represent Argentina, possibly right up to and including the 2026 FIFA World Cup, when the competition will be co-hosted by the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Organizers would be remiss to ignore the impact of Messi, were he to continue playing until the age of 39, before potentially reaching a fairytale conclusion to his career on the biggest stage of them all. Of course, having this remarkable figure promoting the tournament would be a huge plus, especially if he was already residing in the U.S., and this could provide MLS with an added incentive to pull out all the stops.
Lionel Messi’s legacy
We often hear about the legacy of players and tournaments, but what could Messi add to that of MLS? Well, just having such a globally renowned superstar would bring an immediate impact, exposing the brand like never before with media companies flocking to secure broadcast rights. We only need look at the impact of Cristiano Ronaldo for the Saudi Pro League, which is now enjoying much greater exposure than ever before.
And when he does eventually retire, should Messi have featured in MLS, it would be a huge boost for the legacy of the competition itself. Indeed, it could encourage more global talents to follow the same footsteps, perhaps while still at the peak of their careers. Maybe it would inspire the next generation of North American talents, who might choose to stay focused on MLS, instead of seeking fame and fortune in the major European leagues.
Likewise, should Messi choose to bow out of soccer in MLS, we can also imagine him remaining involved in the sport he cherishes, maybe with a Beckham-like package that includes future ownership of a franchise. Just imagine the Argentina ace leading a soccer team from the boardroom, continuing to influence the game in an entirely different way, albeit one guaranteeing his distinguished name remains closely linked to the MLS brand.
Amidst recent claims that Messi could join the MLS and Inter Miami in 2023, one can only imagine the frenzy of hype and enthusiasm that would bring, particularly whenever his team rolls into town as the visitors. The demand for match tickets would be unparalleled, bringing the promise of stadiums that are filled to capacity, every seat occupied with fans enraptured by the opportunity to witness Messi with their own eyes.
The chance to see Messi playing in our backyard would inevitably have massive appeal. “I’d be first to grab a ticket and take my kids to see Messi,” former USMNT forward Alan Gordon, when asked about the prospect by The Guardian last year. Gordon played alongside David Beckham with LA Galaxy and fondly recalls the reaction achieved by the English midfielder, who generated an incredible upturn in engagement and interest.
“We went from playing in front of 10,000, to 60-70,000 people,” recalls Gordon, and “that’s what it’s going to be like,” if Messi joins the MLS in his considered opinion. “Messi is the biggest name in sport and one of the best to ever step foot on a soccer pitch. He’s going to fill the stands.”
Success or failure
Let’s be clear: No one doubts the ability of Lionel Messi, who still has the skill and vision to change games in an instant. But even the inescapable passage of time has caught up with this 35-year-old soccer genius. Were they to land him, Inter Miami would have to shape their team and tactics around the player they get now, the one we often observed casually walking around the pitch for Argentina, prior to swift burst of activity driving them to World Cup success.
But we should also remember that for every David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or Wayne Rooney, there were various big-name MLS arrivals who flopped spectacularly. German legend Lothar Matthaus was a huge disappointment for the New York MetroStars, apparently more focused on promoting his then-girlfriend’s modeling career in New York, than helping his final club side on the field. Steven Gerrard struggled also to adapt at LA Galaxy, hanging up his cleats for good after just one campaign.
There can often be a fine line between success and failure in professional sports, but if Messi does ultimately make the switch to playing in MLS, just getting him to the U.S. will be considered a resounding success. Whatever he manages to produce on the field of play, well, that’s a bonus for as long as it lasts, and fans will undoubtedly be delighted to experience having seen the world’s top soccer personality in action.
Chances of Lionel Messi arriving in U.S.?
Talk of Lionel Messi switching to MLS has been simmering for the last two years, but now it seems the possibilities of it actually happening are sharply increasing. Inter Miami clearly view the Argentina superstar as their key priority, and they appear to have the full backing of MLS itself.
But another key ingredient could now be in the mix, triggered by some extra Bavarian flavor, after Bayern Munich eliminated Paris Saint-Germain and Messi from the UEFA Champions League. According to Forbes, this is likely to result in PSG withdrawing their Messi contract renewal plans, amidst considerable disenchantment from fans, who have often booed the World Cup winner, and stellar colleagues Mbappe and Neymar.
PSG could be looking to wipe the slate clean, having still failed to achieve the ultimate success in the UEFA Champions League, despite massive spending and recruitment featuring some of the biggest names in soccer. Furthermore, without any realistic opportunity of returning to Barcelona on the table, several Spanish media sources claim that Messi has made up his mind, already planning his next adventure in MLS.
Heath Chesters covers international soccer for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @HeathGCF