Lionel Messi’s next stop could mark his return to Barcelona. Or he could make a hugely profitable move to Saudi Arabia. Staying at Paris Saint-Germain is the most unlikely outcome.

Increasingly feverish speculation continued to mount on Tuesday over where Argentina’s World Cup winner will play next season. Inter Miami in Major League Soccer is also chasing the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.

French media have reported that Messi has a verbal agreement with an unnamed Saudi club, a move that would put him back in the same league as Cristiano Ronaldo. But a football transfer gossip specialist, Fabrizio Romano, was quick to update his 14.6 million Twitter followers that there won’t be a decision until after the season.

Both Barcelona and Al Hilal clearly want Messi, who turns 36 next month and also wants to continue playing for Argentina. South American qualification for the 2026 World Cup begins in September, with Argentina at home against Ecuador.


Messi’s trip to Saudi Arabia last week, and subsequent suspension by PSG for unauthorized absence, has reignited rumors that he will play in the Middle Eastern country if he leaves the French capital as expected. A French media report claimed that Messi agreed a massive deal with an unnamed Saudi club worth at least $548 million.

PSG declined to comment when asked by The Associated Press if there is an agreement for Messi to leave the club.

Messi was linked with a move to Riyadh-based Saudi club Al Hilal last month, the same city where Ronaldo’s team Al Nassr is based.

Messi played Ronaldo in January in an exhibition match in Riyadh, with Qatar-owned PSG facing a combined team of Al Nassr and Al Hilal. Ronaldo’s arrival has already boosted Saudi Arabia’s soccer profile in the Middle East in a regional rivalry fueled by hosting last year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Having Messi play Ronaldo would do even more for the country as Saudi Arabia prepares to host the Club World Cup for the first time in December.

PSG’s Lionel Messi reacts during the French Ligue One soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Lorient on April 30, 2023 in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

Messi returned to training with PSG this week after the club lifted his suspension following the promotional trip to Saudi Arabia. He missed practice last Monday, the day after PSG’s 3-1 loss to Lorient. The club announced his suspension last Tuesday.


Messi later apologized to the club and his teammates for traveling without PSG’s permission.

Messi joined PSG on a two-year deal after tearfully leaving financially-strapped Barcelona against his will in 2021, with the option of a further year if both parties agreed. His contract runs until the end of June, but talks about the extension have broken down, making Messi’s departure seem inevitable.

Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez, who is set to lead his team to the Spanish league title this season, has been outspoken that he wants his former teammate back.

Barcelona is the club closest to the heart of Messi and his family. They moved to Spain in 2001 and Messi scored 672 goals, including an extraordinary 50-goal league season in 2012, and won four Champions League trophies with Barcelona among a glittering array of trophies.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta is also eager to bring Messi back, but must overcome the club’s serious debts and restrictions imposed by the Spanish league.


Barcelona’s return to the Champions League could also be affected by an ongoing UEFA investigation into payments of millions of dollars over more than a decade to a company linked to a Spanish referee. No evidence of suspected match-fixing has yet emerged.

Playing in Saudi Arabia would lessen the wear and tear on Messi’s body and also offer lower quality games ahead of World Cup and Copa América 2024 qualification in the United States, with Argentina as defending champions.