On Tuesday, FC Barcelona confirmed that Lionel Messi has requested to leave the club he has spent his entire career playing for. I was lucky enough to spend a few months in Barcelona earlier this year, and I saw firsthand how much the entire region of Catalonia adores Messi. He was on posters everywhere and there was a store on every corner selling his jerseys. Messi was Catalonia’s superhero and I can’t imagine how heartbroken the entire region must be. Messi was the face of an era of futbol that brought ten La Liga titles and four Champions League titles in sixteen years.
He’s the team’s all-time leading scorer by a massive margin and it’s unlikely anyone ever reaches his insane total of 634 goals for the team. FC Barcelona fans everywhere, myself included, are devastated at this news, but several fan bases are exhilarated with the possibility of Messi joining their squad. There have been a handful of teams already linked to the superstar player, including Manchester City, PSG, and Inter Milan, with plenty of others having the potential to make a run at Messi. The contract situation continues to be a question mark, as Messi’s contract was set to run out after this upcoming season but his representation is pushing for an early end to the agreement. Regardless of if a team needs to empty its pockets in the transfer market, they will need to pay Messi lofty wages – only a handful of teams can realistically finance this. As a new era approaches for Lionel Messi, let’s rank the most likely landing spot for the world-class forward.
The Blues have had an explosive transfer window, already spending $59 million on Timo Werner and $44 million on Hakim Ziyech. They are also reportedly close to signing Kai Havertz for $120 million and Ben Chilwell for $105 million. Chelsea almost certainly had the money to spend on Messi, but they have opted to bring in a handful of young players to add to their rebuilding corps under Frank Lampard. This team lacks a veteran manager or a decisive opportunity to compete for trophies right away, so it was likely never an optimal landing spot for Messi. Now, the club is running out of money and can’t justify spending what they do have left on another attacking player.
#9. Inter Miami
Former world-class forward David Beckham was a principal founder of Inter Miami, an MLS team that was founded in 2018. His worldwide star status was always going to help the team attract fans, but reportedly their board is very interested in adding international star talent this year. Messi would certainly qualify as that, but I can’t imagine him wanting to uproot his entire family and move to Miami at the drop of a hat. The competition would not help his legacy, which is presumably the reason he wants to leave Barcelona. Inter Miami would be a fun destination for Messi, but I don’t see it happening.
#8. Newell’s Old Boys
Before he left to become a part of FC Barcelona’s youth program in 2001, Lionel Messi played for Club Atletico Newell’s Old Boys. He first started playing for the Argentinian team when he was six years old and scored 234 goals in 176 games for the club. Messi could make a poetic return to his youth team which would be a fitting end to a legendary career. However, he is still playing at a world-class level and seems to want to continue to compete for major trophies. Messi’s shaky relationship with the Argentine Futbol Association would also seem to be a problem.
Juventus is coming off another Serie A title, the club’s ninth in a row, and has benefitted greatly from the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo as it has become the 10th wealthiest futbol team in the world, per Forbes. There were persisting rumors of Paulo Dybala potentially being on the move this summer, but new manager Andrea Pirlo has since stated he wants the Argentinian forward to stay. Dybala and Messi are national teammates, but Ronaldo likely wouldn’t have the same comfort level in playing with his former La Liga rival. I’d anticipate complications with wages and pettiness between the two players could become an issue, and while the team would be incredibly fun to watch, it may not be sustainable.
#6 Bayern Munich
After one of the best seasons in team history, one in which Bayern Munich took home the Bundesliga and Champions League titles, it would seem that they don’t need to empty their pockets for a 33-year-old forward. However, Bayern is one of the few teams that could likely finance a transfer for Messi as Forbes ranked them as the fourth-wealthiest team in the world before they got their championship earnings. With Leroy Sane joining Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry, and Ivan Perisic on the wings, they don’t have a glaring need there, but they could opt to make a splash signing.
The reigning Premier League champions are considered by most to be one of the top two or three clubs in the world, but they have shown a desire to constantly tweak and improve the squad. The club is in the chase to sign current Bayern midfielder Thiago Alcantra, a player who would likely become their best in the midfield. Liverpool has collected a serious sum of money over the past couple of seasons after winning Champions League and the Premier League and are likely one of the few squads who could find a way to finance Messi’s buyout clause. However, if Messi is able to leave on a free transfer, Liverpool would become all the more likely. Liverpool does have plenty of talent on the wings, headlined by two world-class players in Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, so Messi is likely not a high priority for the team. However, this should be a very appealing destination for Messi as he would be able to play under perhaps the best manager in the world in Jurgen Klopp alongside one of the best rosters in the world. A European treble would be in the cards for this Liverpool team with Messi.
#4. Manchester United
It’s been a rough era post-Alex Ferguson for Manchester United, but Forbes still ranked them as the third-wealthiest futbol club in the world in 2020. Now that the board is fully on board with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, they have been more willing to allow him to finance the transfers he sees as being necessary for the team’s continued improvement. Recently, Bruno Fernandes and Aaron Wan-Bissak have been vital additions to the team. Ole was supposed to have the necessary funds to sign Borrusia Dortmund’s young phenom Jadon Sancho, although Dortmund are holding firm on a hefty $160 million transfer fee. If Messi is allowed to leave on a free transfer, Manchester United could swoop in and use the wages they were spending on Alexis Sanchez (nearly $800,000 a week). That would be more than enough to pay for Messi’s services at right-wing, a position of some serious need for the team. Messi would have the opportunity to start for the world’s most popular team and prove he can compete in the Premier League just as well as La Liga.
When PSG spent over $260 million to finance the transfer of Neymar from Barcelona, they broke the record for the loftiest transfer sum of all time. The Qatari-backed club is one of the wealthiest in the world at the moment and should be able to afford to pay Messi’s likely lofty wages. A reunion with Neymar, Messi’s former teammate with Barcelona, could be a major selling point for the Argentinian forward as Neymar will be able to ease his transition to a new club. If Messi is looking to add to his legacy, a move to PSG may not be the best path for him. The Parisian club already wins Ligue One every season and any league titles for Messi with the team likely wouldn’t add much to his resume. PSG did just lose in the Champions League final, though, and if Messi is able to deliver the team the European trophy it would only fuel his legendary status. Messi would be able to play alongside some excellent attacking talent at PSG in Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, and Mauro Icardi as Edison Cavani is set to leave this offseason. The strong base of talent, financial incentives, and consistent competitive nature of the team should all appeal to Messi.
#2. Inter Milan
This Italian side has seen a mass influx of talent over the past half-decade as Suning Holdings Group, a Chinese-owned company, has pumped money into the team. Recent big-ticket signings include Romelu Lukaku, Christian Eriksen, Achraf Hakimi, Alexis Sanchez, and Lautauro Martinez. This Inter team surprised a lot of people when it made a legitimate run at the Serie A title and fell just one point short of league-winning Juventus. The squad is also coming off a Europa League Final appearance and will compete in the Champions League next season. Of course, a major commercial draw of Messi going to Inter would be the immediate excitement of a renewed domestic rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi and Ronaldo would be playing on the top two teams in Serie A from last season after many years of playing for the top two teams in La Liga. It’s hard to craft an argument against Juventus having the more talented squad than Inter, so if Messi were able to win Serie A in his first year with the team, it would provide a boost to his legacy against Ronaldo’s.
#1. Manchester City
The most likely destination for Messi, in my opinion, is Manchester City. As a Manchester United fan, it would be undeniably upsetting to see one of my favorite players in the world join my rival in-city team. However, the pairing makes a lot of sense for several reasons. Messi would be reunited with Pep Guardiola, his former manager under whom he had some of the most success of his career. City would also provide him with a perhaps unrivaled amount of attacking talent to work with between Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, and Riyad Mahrez. Manchester City is also owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group, a company held by members of the royal family including Sheikh Mansour, the current deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. Man City is backed by an amount of money that rivals any club in the world, and they would be one of the few teams able to afford Messi’s lofty buyout clause should it be necessary. In the eternal Messi vs Ronaldo debate, a common point in favor of Ronaldo is that he had years of success in the Premier League before succeeding in La Liga. If Messi goes to the opposite side of Manchester as his longtime rival and wins trophies with the Citizens, he could cement his legacy as the best player of all time.