It was confirmed Tuesday that Lionel Messi is prepared to leave FC Barcelona.
There is a tiny shortlist of soccer teams that can afford his services, so speculation did not exactly run rampant after the announcement. Manchester City appears the most likely destination, a place where Messi can reunite with Pep Guardiola and play for a team with a coherent, competitive system.
Jokes were aplenty on Twitter, though. Social media teams everywhere put out an offer to Messi. American and Canadian clubs in particular were active, as fans joked that Messi might have to take a spot on the bench behind such luminaries as Paxton Pomykal.
Messi to MLS won’t happen now…
In MLS, there is a feeling that the jokes could come true at some point. (I have my doubts that Messi will have to sit behind Pomykal at any point, however.)
MLS has consistently been listed on odds websites as a possible destination, behind City, PSG, Manchester United, Inter Milan, and Chelsea. Newell’s Old Boys, his childhood Argentine club, has been bandied about, but it would be hard to imagine Messi going there at 33.
It’s similarly hard to imagine Messi going to MLS right now. He’s still the best player in the world by a large margin and he has a whole lot more to give in the top European competitions. A few years with City would give him a valuable chance at more league and continental trophies. It would also keep him playing at the highest level leading into the 2022 World Cup.
…but Messi to MLS could happen in the future.
But in the future? MLS appears to be a legitimate possibility. ESPN reported Wednesday that a Messi contract with Manchester City could include a clause that would allow Messi to finish his career with New York City FC. Messi would then become an ambassador with City Football Group.
The thought of Messi finishing his career in America has long been a topic of discussion in MLS. Often, the talk has been centered around David Beckham’s Inter Miami, a new club that is frequently mentioned as a destination for worldwide superstars. Miami is a glamorous place with Beckham’s name slapped on it.
With this potential City contract, Messi would play three years in Manchester before going to New York. (Given previous rumors, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Guardiola could make the trip with him.) The biggest question for NYCFC: What will the stadium situation look like by then? Messi can’t play at tiny Yankee Stadium. It would make the league look terrible. It might be even worse if NYC has to be nomads, as they are now during the makeshift season.
They confirmed discussions in the winter to build a stadium in the Bronx, but the pandemic has apparently slowed the process. A future Messi arrival should increase the urgency of everyone involved.
There is a history of all-time great soccer players playing in the United States late in their careers; Pele, George Best, and Johan Cruyff come to mind. Messi, though, would be a national event. Every game in which he appears would be a major draw, and the league would gain international attention given the frequent focus on Messi’s legacy.
Whether this actually happens depends on what Messi is thinking, and what his desires are for his family. It’s unclear where he wants to live when he finishes playing. It’s possible that he wouldn’t want to live in the United States for however many years if he plans to retire to Barcelona or Argentina. Newell’s Old Boys, in his hometown, looms as an option. The complicated relationship between Messi and Rosario, Argentina, detailed famously in 2012 by Wright Thompson, seems to make a South America return less likely.
Legitimate reporting suggests New York is an eventual possibility, though. If Cristiano Ronaldo goes to Inter Miami, we could get the final Messi-Ronaldo battles right here in the US. Maybe it’s far-fetched, but it would be massively entertaining.