The image of Lionel Messi with the FIFA World Cup 2022 in his hand shows more than a dream win. It is a true “GOAT” moment, showing the glory of a legendary champion who now has everything. However, reports that have been emerging since yesterday indicate that the man who has won it all still has something left to lose: his USD110 million contract with Paris Saint-Germain FC (PSG), the club he moved to after tearfully leaving his ‘home’, Barcelona FC, in August 2021.
By all indications till today, Messi, who led Argentina to its World Cup 2022 victory, is set to leave PSG at the end of the 2022-23 football season, following the club imposing on Messi a two-match suspension and two-week wage fine. His two-year contract had the option of a one-year extension, but the club is unlikely to offer him that extension.
The suspension of Messi came about after he made a recent two-day trip to Saudi Arabia without permission from the club. The trip was meant to honour some commercial commitments, as Messi has several endorsement deals with global brands, including nation brands.
All speculation now centres around where Messi would go next. There is talk of a massive offer from Saudi Arabia, the kind that Cristiano Ronaldo, who led Portugal and is also considered GOAT (greatest of all time) by many, accepted after the World Cup 2022, leaving Manchester United, the English club.
If Messi’s current PSG contract gives him USD55 million a year, plus some extra payments, Ronaldo’s deal with Al-Nassr reportedly gives him USD75 million a year. But those are the figures only for playing football. These superstars make tens of millions more in other deals. For instance, Ronaldo’s total income from the Al-Nassr contract is reportedly worth about USD220 million a year. As the World Cup 2022 winner captain, and a player younger by three years, Messi could make a lot more than that.
There is also the possibility that Messi might return to Barcelona, where his heart still might be. Ever since news broke that he is leaving PSG, there have been reports that he has received great interest from both Barcelona FC and the Saudi club Al-Hilal. One of the news headlines called them “suitors” for Messi.
After Messi’s Argentina defeated France in the World Cup 2022 final in a cliffhanger match in December, in the Gulf nation of Qatar, there were rumours of a probable separation between the Argentine legend and the French side. Though news of the exit comes now, The Guardian has reported that “it is understood Messi’s father, Jorge, told PSG a month ago that the Argentina international would seek a move”.
It is not that Messi just sneaked away to Saudi Arabia; he did ask for permission from PSG, and when it was not given, he travelled to the Gulf country anyway, because he reportedly has an endorsement deal with the tourism board of Saudi Arabia. He had postponed this trip twice earlier because of PSG match issues.
The unauthorised trip got Messi a suspension for two matches and a fine of two weeks’ wages. PSG is a Ligue 1 club, playing in the top division of French football, and the suspension means Messi sits out the team matches against Troyes and Ajaccio, but is likely to play against Auxerre on May 21.
As for where he might go next, The Guardian reported that Barcelona FC was trying to re-sign Messi but was facing La Liga regulation hurdles. The newspaper also said that Italy’s Inter Milan was very interested in Messi and that Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia had possibly made an unbelievable offer of GBP350 million (more than USD400 million) a year.
Messi left Barcelona FC because the club was not able to offer him a contract due to financial stress, even after Messi cut his own price. Both sides tried hard to make it work. In July 2021, there were reports of a restructured contract and a large salary cut for Messi, as Barcelona FC struggled with finances and regulations. But in the end, nothing worked out, and Messi left with obvious sorrow. Now, there is just a slim chance that he might return with joy.