PSG ban Lionel Messi over unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia, a hint he will go as a free agent
Paris Saint-Germain will ban Lionel Messi for two weeks after the Argentine superstar skipped training to travel to Saudi Arabia and will not extend the Argentine superstar’s contract beyond this season, according to multiple sources reports Tuesday.
The punishment and Messi’s unauthorized trip to the Gulf a day after a disheartening 3-1 defeat by Lorient comes with speculation about his future a month before he is set to become one of the highest-profile free agents in sporting history.
On Monday, the first day of the final month of his PSG contract, Messi reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia to fulfill obligations related to his sponsorship deal with the Petro-State. He had reportedly asked for permission before, but PSG’s sporting director and manager – who had promised all players two days off if they beat Lorient on Sunday – only gave conditional permission if PSG won Sunday’s game or drew.
Instead, PSG lost when Messi started and played 90 minutes, maintaining their lead at the top of Ligue 1 with 5 points five games to go. The next day, the whole squad trained – but without Messi, who had gone to Saudi Arabia, which brought him heaps of money as a tourism ambassador (and who has a frosty relationship with Qatar, the neighboring Gulf nation that owns PSG).
ESPN reported that his absence on Monday caused tension in the dressing room. In other circumstances it might have been excused – perhaps Messi, the greatest player of all time, would have been given special status and treatment – but PSG officials were quick to react. They reportedly decided that Messi will not play or train for two weeks and will not be paid. (The club confirmed on Tuesday that they would “discipline” Messi.)
Instead of luring Messi back to Paris for another season, they conceded that he is likely to leave as a free agent this summer rather than adopting a soft stance. French newspaper L’Equipe confirmed that the club will not renew his contract. The looming end has fueled months of rumors and questions about where Messi could play next season; the answer now seems to be “elsewhere”.
Where will Messi play next?
Messi has been closely linked with Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami for over a year. There have been romantic suggestions that he might return to Argentina. More recently there have been reports that Barcelona, where he played for two decades from the age of 13, could lure him back to Spain. There have also been reports of record-breaking bids from Saudi clubs.
But Barca are in financial crisis and would have to conjure accounting magic to include Messi’s salary in their books.
Saudi Arabia can offer him a nine-figure salary but cannot offer him a viable level of competition and global prominence.
Only two Argentinian clubs, Boca Juniors and River Plate, have the infrastructure and resources to realistically offer him anything other than a daily circus given his fame – and Messi probably wouldn’t want to choose one side of the rivalry, the Buenos Aires splits.
And then there’s Miami, a glamorous destination in a huge market and growing league, whose commissioner has indicated his willingness to be creative and maybe even bend MLS rules to pay Messi what he’s worth.
“You’re dealing with perhaps the most extraordinary player in the history of football,” Don Garber told The Athletic in March. “So if there’s any rumors that he’s linked with Miami, that’s great. And if it could happen it would be great for MLS, it would be great for Messi and his family and like everything with us, we try to take advantage of every opportunity.
“Teams have the flexibility to do unique things,” he continued. “MLS is a single entity. If you sell something owned by the collective, the collective must approve it. Whatever (Inter Miami owner) Jorge (Mas) decides to structure something with (MLS Executive Vice President) Todd (Durbins) help, if we have the opportunity, it will go outside the box. … We need to structure a deal that compensates him in the way he and his family expect.
There could be other, still nameless admirers circling in the circle. There’s no perfect option, just as there wasn’t when Barca’s financial woes led Messi to PSG in 2021 – which is why he initially appeared to be staying for another season. Fabrizio Romano reported back in December and January that Messi and PSG had a ‘verbal pact’ to extend his contract beyond June 2023.
But talks with PSG have now reportedly collapsed. Of the many imperfect options, Paris now seems off the table. Messi’s stay in the French capital is likely to end without further ado. And a new chapter in the career of the greatest soccer player of all time begins.