Paris Saint-Germain needed Lionel Messi to stop their season from completely falling apart. Tied at 3-3 in stoppage time of a Ligue 1 match against Lille — days after a disappointing home defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League — the Argentine was required to convert a free kick to win all three points.
Messi’s goal prevented a crisis from becoming a full-blown capitulation. PSG have already lost more matches in 2023 (six) than they did in all of 2022, with Christophe Galtier struggling to forge an effective team unit from one of the most talented groups of individuals in European soccer. Another early Champions League exit should PSG not better Bayern in the second leg will surely prompt another rebuild.
This is where Messi has a decision to make. The 35-year-old’s contract at the Parc des Princes will expire at the end of the season and while he has the option to extend for another year, that might not be in his best interests. If this season marks the end of a cycle for PSG, it might be wise for Messi to get out this summer.
PSG is perpetually a crisis club. The hiring of Galtier as head coach and Luis Campos (credited with success at Lille and Monaco) was billed as a sensible move by a club that hasn’t made many sensible decisions in recent years, but the pair have been engulfed by the acrimony that refuses to leave the Parc des Princes.
There have been reports of dressing room tension between star players such as Kylian Mbappe and Neymar with the latter causing controversy in Paris by hosting several late-night parties at his house. After PSG were beaten by Bayern Munich last week, Neymar played a poker tournament and was spotted eating at McDonald’s.
Galtier was appointed to impose a structure on PSG’s squad, but recent results and performances suggest he has been unable to tame the rebellious spirit within his dressing room. This contributed to the downfall of Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino in the French capital and it’s increasingly likely Galtier will be next to lose his job as PSG boss.
Messi has been linked with a return to Barcelona, although there is doubt that the Catalan club would be able to afford the 35-year-old’s salary. Financial issues forced Messi out of Camp Nou in the first place and while Xavi Hernandez has his team performing at a high level this season there is still work to be done to balance the books.
From an emotional point of view, there’s no denying the sight of Messi in a Barcelona shirt again would resonate with fans across the world. The Argentine had an unbreakable bond with the Spanish club and surely would have stayed there had gross mismanagement not taken the choice away from him two years ago.
However, it could be argued Barcelona have moved on without Messi. They have started building a team for the future and Messi’s return to Camp Nou would hinder rather than help their long-term ambitions. Barca have paid a heavy price for making short-sighted decisions in recent times and Messi’s signing could be described as another such transfer.
Inter Miami’s interest in Messi is long-standing with widespread reports stating talks between the Major League Soccer club and the 2022 World Cup winner have taken place over a number of months. It was even reported during the World Cup that Messi had reached an agreement to join Inter Miami in 2023.
Now 35, Messi is fading as a physical force, but his performances for Argentina in Qatar proved he can still dominate at the elite level. MLS is a competitive level and Messi would face new tests in the United States, but would he be leaving too much on the table by swapping European soccer for Inter Miami at this stage of his career?
Other reports claim there is interest from Saudi Arabia in signing Messi. Al-Nassr recently signed Cristiano Ronaldo on a record-breaking contract worth over $200 million-a-year and the capture of Messi on top of this would serve as a statement of intent by the country as they attempt to forge a reputation in the world’s most popular sport.
Ronaldo presents Messi with a cautionary tale. Considered one of the best in the world not so long ago, the Portuguese forward has aged poorly and now finds himself on the peripheries of the game sooner than he might have envisaged. Messi still has more to offer at the very top of soccer and he must plot the final phase of his career accordingly.