Where next for Lionel Messi after being crowned world's best player?

Argentinian superstar has yet to commit to contract extension at PSG and other teams are ready to move for World Cup winner

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As Fifa was rolling out a familiar red carpet for Lionel Messi in Paris, from various corners of what the game’s governing body likes to call the “football family” there came garlands from clubs who would like to be part of his future.

Messi, to nobody’s surprise, collected Fifa’s The Best award for the finest male player of 2022 at Monday’s gala in the French capital and, as he greeted old friends and well-wishers, he could scarcely avoid questions about where he imagines he may be in six months time.

It had been a dream year, Messi told his audience on receiving his prize, one that will probably precede his winning an eighth Ballon d’Or, the sport’s more traditional marker of individual excellence, later this year.

He shared credit with his colleagues from the Argentina squad — “without them I wouldn’t be here” — for the vote-shaping World Cup triumph in December and namechecked two who were present in Paris, Lionel Scaloni, who had earlier picked up the prize for best coach, and Emi “Dibu” Martinez, named best goalkeeper.

Also in the auditorium were a number of representatives from Messi’s club, Paris Saint-Germain, including the president and the runner-up in Messi’s category, his striking partner at PSG, Kylian Mbappe.

In what was a brief acceptance speech, Messi concentrated on Argentina. He made no mention of winning the last Ligue 1 title with PSG, an achievement from within the period covered by the Fifa award.

That perceived omission — and Messi may simply have focused on the World Cup because the ceremony was a Fifa event — was noted in some of the places that aspire to make a new home for Messi when his current contract with PSG expires in the summer.

Talks have taken place on prolonging his stay with the French champions, who Messi joined in 2021 after 20 years attached to Barcelona, but at this stage the option to extend beyond June, when Messi turns 36, has not been triggered.

Eagerly monitoring that situation, among others, are Inter Miami, the MLS club in which David Beckham has a stake.

Messi and his family have long indicated that a move to the US, and specifically Florida, might be attractive. Some of Messi’s principal sponsors believe his direct exposure to the US market would be mutually beneficial.

The pedigree of the MLS is rising too, as it becomes a more respected nursery of young talent and standards rise. At the weekend Inter Miami manager Phil Neville was open about the club’s desire to elevate those standards further through the leading footballer of the 21st century: “I’m not going to deny there’s truth in the speculation that we’re interested in Messi,” Neville told The Times.

Seated not far from Messi at the ceremony was Joan Laporta, the president of Barcelona, proud that Barca’s Alexia Putellas again won the Best Women’s Player award, but discouraged at how the prize-giving reflected where Barcelona’s men’s team are in the current hierarchy.

The previous two editions had Robert Lewandowski on the top of the podium — while he was still at Bayern Munich. Lewandowski, who joined Barca last summer, did not make the top three this time around.

Laporta had little opportunity to speak with Messi, who won his seven Ballon d’Or titles while at Barcelona, although the president has been in contact with Messi’s father and adviser recently.

Xavi, the Barca manager, is meanwhile regularly in touch with Messi himself. “He’s a friend,” said Xavi last week, teasing at the possibility of an emotional return to Camp Nou, “This club is his home and the door here is always open.”

Messi keeps a family home in Catalonia, and his children were born there. But with Barcelona still confronting some of the financial constraints that, according Laporta, obliged them to let Messi leave 18 months ago, a move back would be beset with complications.

Just as romantic an idea as going back to Camp Nou is the scenario that has Messi seeing out what would probably be the last chapter of his elite career in the city of his birth, Rosario, and at Newell’s Old Boys, the club he watched as a child.

Messi’s friend and former Argentina striking partner, Sergio Aguero, gave that option some sustenance by telling a Brazilian radio show: “He’s seriously thinking about playing at Newell’s.” Others have sounded more sceptical.

The award-winner from Monday’s gala with most interest in where Messi goes, or whether he moves on from PSG, would be Scaloni.

Argentina’s manager, launched into stardom by a Messi-driven success at the World Cup, has a Copa America to prepare for, a title Argentina will be defending, in July 2024.

Scaloni wants Messi above all to be happy in his game, and still enthusiastic about the national team, whatever club he is at, by the time that tournament begins.

Updated: March 01, 2023, 12:02 PM