Lionel Messi’s father was incensed by the claim made on Tuesday by AFP that his son’s proposed move to Al-Hilal was a “done deal”. Jorge dismissed the story as a “malicious rumour” and reiterated that no decision has yet been made on where the Argentina captain will play next season.

As GOAL has reported several times, Messi will wait until the conclusion of the current campaign before finalising his future. Tellingly, though, a move to Saudi Arabia wasn’t ruled out. On the contrary, it remains a very viable option for the forward and his family, which is depressing for those that expect sporting superstars to have a social conscience.

In that context, Messi’s recent moves, on and off the field, have been desperately disappointing, his perceived lack of ethics best summed up by the fact that he was recently suspended by Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain for fulfilling a promotional obligation in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi switch would make little sense

As Argentine writer Marcela Mora y Araujo once told The Football Show on Off The Ball, “I think Messi’s super-bright but I don’t think he’s overly engaged with wider issues.”

Which is why he ignored a public plea from the families of several prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia to reject the lucrative offer to promote tourism in a country with a deplorable human rights record.

So, the fact that Messi would clearly have no qualms about joining Al-Hilal is utterly unsurprising, at least from a moral perspective.

However, on a sporting level, it’s a transfer that makes little sense.

Messi has long craved a fifth Champions League crown. Time and time again over the past five years, he has admitted that it is his one remaining “dream” at club level.

‘Helpless and desperate’ at PSG

Remember, after rocking up at the Parc des Princes in the summer of 2021 following his painful Barcelona break-up, he claimed that he was in the “best place” to conquer Europe one last time.

“I think we have the team to do it here,” he said. “I hope we can make it happen.”

They didn’t, of course. PSG have suffered a characteristically humiliating last-16 exit in each of Messi’s two seasons in France.

This year’s exit was particularly tough to take. PSG had capitulated in the closing stages of their 2021 loss to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu but at least they had played well for the majority of the tie.

The same could not be said of their latest elimination, with PSG submitting to a clearly superior Bayern Munich team in the meekest of fashion, offering next-to-no resistance in the second leg at the Allianz Arena.

In truth, it was actually a little tough to watch. Philipp Lahm was obviously delighted to see his side go through but even he was saddened by the sight of Messi looking lost as PSG crumbled around him.

“He showed his extra class at certain moments in Munich,” Lahm told Sport Bild. “But Messi’s skill is used without purpose, aim or direction. Individuals at PSG just don’t know how to score a goal together and what to contribute to it.

“Messi was helpless and desperate.”

If that is to be the last we see of him on the club game’s grandest stage, it would be a pretty ignominious way for him to bow out.

Take a wage cut to go back to Barca

One could argue that he deserves better, but it’s difficult to feel sorry for a man whose destiny remains very much in his own hands.

After all, Messi is under no obligation to move to Saudi Arabia. He most certainly does not need the cash. There are still several top European clubs who would only be too happy to sign him were it not for understandable Financial Fair Play (FFP) concerns – and there is absolutely nothing stopping Messi from lowering his exorbitant salary demands in order to make himself far more affordable.

Let’s face it, if he really wants to return to his beloved Barcelona, he could take a significant wage cut in order to make it happen – and still end up being well-paid.

Messi was understandably upset by club president Joan Laporta’s suggestion that he should have offered to “play for free” in order to remain at Camp Nou in 2021, as he was not responsible for the Catalan’s economic problems – so he was not obliged to resolve them.

It wouldn’t have even been possible from a legal perspective, making it something of a mischievous move on Laporta’s part, an apparent attempt to shift some of the blame off Barca for losing the greatest player in the club’s history because of the recklessness of the previous regime.

However, there was a little more to it than all of that, because if there is one thing that we know about Messi, it’s that he is acutely aware of his own worth, and he has never been willing to sell himself short.

The 2026 World Cup goal

PSG discovered that during their recent attempts to convince him to stay at the Parc des Princes. Given their own FFP issues, they really could have done with Messi agreeing to accept a smaller pay packet – but there was never any chance of that happening.

He’s obviously earned the right to do as he pleases, particularly when it comes to his earnings. If he wants to turn as much profit as possible before he retires, that is his prerogative. It’s also worth pointing out that he’s clearly a generous guy. He’s donated significant sums of money to charity and funded several noble initiatives down through the years.

It’s actually arguably greedy of us to want him to continue playing at the very highest level – given he’s been wowing the watching world for almost two decades, delivering time and time again for club and country despite being under the kind of pressure that most of us cannot even comprehend.

No player, even one that has long appeared super-human, is immune to the ravages of time, and playing in the low-level Pro League would most likely allow Messi to prolong his career, significantly reducing the stress and strain placed upon his 35-year-old frame as he attempts to realise his ambitious goal of featuring – and more importantly starring – at the 2026 World Cup.

So much more to give

But he’s clearly got plenty more to give at the pinnacle of the profession, as so thrillingly underlined by his superb performances at the 2022 World Cup.

So, Messi joining Cristiano Ronaldo in football’s most luxurious retirement home in Saudi Arabia just doesn’t sit right, even just from a purely sporting standpoint.

Obviously, we should be grateful for everything that Messi has done for the beautiful game, for all of the magical memories he has made.

It wasn’t just a joy to behold his logic-defying displays in Qatar; it was a privilege. What’s more, it felt like a fittingly fantastic finale to the most remarkable career of consistent excellence the game has ever seen.

In that sense, Messi is undeniably football’s GOAT. Nobody has performed at such a high level for such a sustained period of time. He has set records that will never be broken and redefined our perception of what is possible on a pitch.

Live like a God in Argentina

But it’s precisely because he’s achieved so much that we expect more from Messi. Because of his almost unique mix of talent, discipline and desire, he’s put himself in that rare, privileged position of being unburdened by financial considerations, and thus free to do as he pleases.

If the quality of competition is no longer an issue for him, he could make an even more romantic move than going back to Barcelona by joining his very first club, Newell’s Old Boys.

With his World Cup win, Messi is now a god in Argentina – he could just as easily go home and live like one in his native Rosario. It certainly wouldn’t be particularly rewarding on a financial level but what a fairy-tale finish it would be.

It seems highly unlikely to happen, of course. At this stage, a summer switch to Saudi Arabia seems inevitable, simply because of the sheer size of the offer on the table.

Again, nothing has been formalised. There could yet be more turns and twists.

But one thing has been made abundantly clear over the past couple of years: the illusion that the game’s greatest player is driven by dreams has been shattered. The grim reality is that Messi’s moves are now motivated mainly by money, and that’s a little hard to accept, on every level.


By Lylla

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *