Lionel Messi: Al Hilal, Barcelona or Inter Miami - where will he play next season?

Argentine's time at Paris Saint-Germain looks to be coming to an end

Lionel Messi holds a falcon during a recent family trip to Saudi Arabia, where he is a tourism ambassador for the country. Photo: Saudi Tourism Authority
Powered by automated translation

It looks increasingly likely Lionel Messi will bid 'au revoir' to Paris Saint-Germain at the end of this season with speculation as to the Argentine's next destination in overdrive.

The 35-year-old was hit with a two-week suspension on Tuesday after the club said a recent family trip to Saudi Arabia was not authrorised.

Messi's contract at the Parc des Princes expires in June, with French daily L'Equipe reporting that the club's Qatari owners will not take up the option for a 12-month extension.

With one of the world's best players almost certain to be on the market this summer, we take a look at the World Cup winner's options.

Al Hilal

Messi's recent trip to the Saudi Arabia has caused considerable consternation.

The player was of the understanding that the PSG squad would be given two days off after last Sunday's Ligue 1 match against Lorient, only for coach Christophe Galtier to walk back that decision and order his squad back in for training on the Monday after the Parisians suffered a 3-1 loss.

As my colleague Ian Hawkey wrote Wednesday, Messi had pre-arranged a 48-hour trip to Riyadh, to honour a commitment to the Saudi Arabia tourism authority, for whom he is an official ambassador. He went ahead with it. While he was in Saudi Arabia with his family, images of them heavily promoted by Saudi officials, his teammates trained on Monday.

PSG president Nasser Al Khelaifi appears to have been unsatisfied with Messi's version of events and hit the player with a two-week suspension and a fine equal to a fortnight’s salary.

Messi's links with Saudi would make the Kingdom an obvious choice for his next move.

Messi in talks over $320 million-a-year move to Saudi Arabia

Messi in talks over $320 million-a-year move to Saudi Arabia

A sold-out King Fahd Stadium witnessed Messi lock horns with his longtime nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo in a friendly between PSG and a Riyadh Allstar XI side in January.

Another colleague, John McAuley, who was in the ground, wrote that, while Ronaldo garnered his share of attention, the crowds' reaction to Messi was noticeably louder any time a fan displaying a a replica PSG, Barcelona or Argentina shirt with his name on was shown on the giant screen.

If Messi does opt for a move to Saudi then Al Hilal seems the most likely destination.

The Asian champions have, according to respected football journalist Fabrizio Romano, offered the former Barcelona forward a staggering €400 million per year contract.

That deal would dwarf even the deal Nassr paid to Ronaldo, with the Portuguese reportedly earning $200 million a year, making him the highest-paid athlete in the world in a recent Forbes study.

Al Hilal fans taunted Ronaldo during the Riyadh derby last month with chants of "Messi" as the Nassr striker cut a frustrated figure in the 2-0 defeat that put a serious dent in their Saudi Pro League title hopes.

Those Hilal fans could well be chanting Messi's name on a more regular basis in 2023/24.


Spanish league leaders Barcelona are confident that Messi will rejoin them in the summer, according to Foot Mercato.

Messi departed Barca in the summer of 2021 after the Catalan club were forced to drastically trim their wage bill after falling foul of financial rules.

Discussions between Barca and Messi were already under way, according to the report, before Messi's trip to Saudi Arabia. Argentine reporter Veronica Brunati tweeted Wednesday that Barca had tabled an offer worth €25 million over two years for Messi to return to Camp Nou.

A spiritual homecoming to a club where Messi made his name and is the club's all-time leading scorer certainly makes sense from the player's perspective but perhaps a little less so from the club's.

The situation at Barca was so dire that, in a sense, the club has had to mortgage its future with a series of loans and commercial agreements to help them balance their books. Paying a player who turns 36 in June, albeit on a fraction of his previous contract and nothing like the reported offer from Hilal, would seem to point to yet more financial mismanagement.

And do Barca really need Messi? Undoubtedly he still is one of the best players in the world, as proven with the way he galvanised a demoralised Argentina team who had lost their opening match at the 2022 World Cup to Saudi Arabia and led them all the way to shoot-out glory in the final against France.

But Barca coach Xavi's faith in youth this season has paid huge dividends. The Catalans are 13 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga with five games remaining and are on course for a first Spanish championship in four years.

Though they floundered in Europe, exiting the Champions League at the group stage before being eliminated at the first hurdle when they dropped down to the Europa League, they have excelled in the league, losing only three games all season.

That has largely been based on a stoic defence that has conceded only 11 goals in 33 matches aligned with the emergence of teenagers Pedri and Gavi as a midfield force to be reckoned with.

Robert Lewandowski's 19 Liga goals compare favourably to Messi's 15 in Ligue 1, and Barca's conveyor belt of homegrown talent from La Masia will hopefully see us witness more of the likes of exciting 15-year-old Lamine Yamal, Barca's youngest ever player who has agreed to extend his contract at Barca until 2026, before long.

Inter Miami

The Major League Soccer side have a long-standing interest in Messi, with representatives meeting with the player and his team at the Qatar World Cup late last year.

Signing Messi would be the marque name David Beckham's franchise has long coveted, and it is understood Messi has given a move to America serious thought.

Miami have been linked with a move for Messi's former Barcelona teammate, Sergio Busquets, which they hope might persuade the Argentine of their ambition to become a major force in the MLS.

MLS's convoluted salary cap restrictions could be a potential stumbling block, but it's hard to think that the league would not make some sort of exemption to help lure one of the greatest player's of all time.

Updated: May 04, 2023, 9:25 AM