A few months ago, rumors about Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi’s potential move to Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami dominated the headlines. While it was never confirmed, Messi said playing for MLS was a “dream.” But after his stunning World Cup victory, Inter Miami’s hopes of bringing him to MLS might be on the back burner for a while.
A lot has changed since Argentina’s victory over France on Sunday. Minutes after lifting the World Cup in Lusail stadium, despite his previous statements about wrapping up his national team career after Qatar, Messi told reporters that he decided to continue to play for la selección. “I love soccer; I enjoy it,” he said. “I love being part of the national team, with this team, I want to play a few more matches as the World Champions with them.” Argentina’s head coach Lionel Scaloni said Messi’s kit was available if he wanted to play at the next World Cup.
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While his desire to continue playing for his national team is clear, Messi still needs to make up his mind about his club career beyond June 30, when his contract with Paris Saint-Germain ends. The 35-year-old Argentine agreed to play for the Qatari-owned French top flight team in 2021 for about $70 million gross annually, but he has the option to extend his two-year contract for another year.
“He has a brilliant opportunity to stay in Paris and win the Champions League, but if he doesn’t achieve success, I don’t think he has any real unfinished business in Europe,” Mike Forde, founder of the New York-based sports advisory firm Sportsology Group, told Sportico. “With the World Cup coming to the United States in 2026 and the rise of great MLS projects like Inter Miami and their new exciting stadium project, South Florida seems like the perfect fit for Messi.”
Three and a half years before the next World Cup, which will take place in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, there has never a better time to bring a star player to MLS to hype up the crowds.
“From a sports business perspective, all eyes will be on North America, especially on the U.S., for the next four years,” said Boris Gartner, the CEO of LaLiga North America and the co-host of Sportico’s Spanish language podcast La Previa.
According to Gartner, getting more focus on soccer in the U.S., through the MLS or international leagues, will be paramount. “Messi’s arrival to MLS would create that attention and interest,” he said. “But as we’ve seen it with other stars in the past, it ended up being just one part of what needs to be done to create sustainable, broad interest in the league,” he said. Representatives from MLS did not respond to Sportico’s requests for comment.
Messi’s arrival in MLS would undoubtedly be the most significant move in U.S. soccer since former English soccer star David Beckham’s arrival at the LA Galaxy 15 years ago, when the English star wrapped his successful club career with Real Madrid and signed a five-year contract with LA. One of the highest-paid soccer players in the world, Beckham was promised an MLS expansion team on top of his salary. He exercised his option in 2014, and for a $25 million expansion fee, he formed Inter Miami with Jorge Mas.
Like Beckham, Messi, the second-best-paid athlete in the world, will have to take a significant pay cut to come to MLS, but he could be offered a stake in the club to compensate for MLS’ salary cap. Sportico’s recent MLS valuations put Inter Miami at $585 million.
If he signed on, his salary would be in the neighborhood of $10 million to $20 million a year. According to MLS, Chicago Fire player Xherdan Shaqiri received an annual base salary of $8.15 million and was the highest-paid player in MLS in 2022, followed by Messi’s former national teammate Gonzalo Higuain, who earned $5.79 million annually.
The MLS has had a handful of iconic players from elite European leagues such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, Frank Lampard and David Villa.
“One of the criticisms of MLS historically has been getting players past their peak,” Forde said. “But he has just driven Argentina to success, and he’s performing at a high level. He’s still a highly productive player to make a transformational impact on MLS.”