Major League Soccer is 26 years old. A quarter of a century to shake off the label of an elephant's graveyard, a small competition, with players who do not leave its borders... MLS is football, but with the connotations of American sport. Let's not try to compare LaLiga or the Premier League to the top US football competition. The growth of the last years is due to a work of approaching the spectator, agreements with European clubs, foreign signings and promotion of the youth academy.
Basically, we can compare them. In the 2020-2021 season Serginho Dest and Konrad de la Fuente won the Copa del Rey with Barcelona; Christian Pulisc lifted the Champions League with Chelsea; Gio Reyna won the German Cup; Westen McKennie won the Italian Cup and Super Cup with Juventus; Chris Richards lifted the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich; Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen lifted the Premier League and Tim Weah won the French Cup with Lille. In addition to other winners in the Belgian, Swiss and Polish competitions. Let this sample explain the potential of North American football and its influence in Europe.
Now MLS is in the news again because Messi could play for Inter Miami in 2024. Joan Laporta wants to do financial engineering to keep the Argentine in the squad and pay him the very high contract he has. According to Sport, Messi would play for Barça in the 21-22 and 22-23 season and would be paid 60 million euros per season. In 23-24 and 24-25 he would be a player for Inter Miami and a Barcelona ambassador for another 60 million euros each season. He would then become a strategic partner and ambassador until 2031. Laporta has priced the timing well because his presidency ends in 2025, the same year Messi is due to return from the US to begin his career as an ambassador for the club.
Signing for MLS is not easy. The competition has very rigid rules and Miami just received a harsh sanction for violating the salary budget rules. Miami International Football Club was founded by David Beckham in 2018 and began competing in MLS in 2020. The former England player landed at Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007 with the right to be able to buy a franchise in the future.
The arrival of David Beckham meant a substantial change in the transfer policy. Manuel Vaquero is a sports journalist at Vavel and an expert on North American football, "thanks to Beckham the "Designated Player" rule was introduced. That changed the history of MLS. Without that rule Messi would not be able to play in the United States". The Franchise Player Law or Beckham Law of 2007 allows each franchise to sign players who are excluded from the team's salary cap.
MLS' sanctioning of Inter Miami should not jeopardise Leo Messi's arrival, though the team will lose potential. An investigation by the competition revealed that French player Blaise Matuidi and Colombian Andres Reyes counted as "Designated Player" when the club had only communicated that Higuain, Pellegrini and Pizarro were their franchise players. The sanction means a fine of 2 million euros for the club; 250,000 euros for owner Jorge Mas and the disqualification until 2022 of former sporting director Paul McDonough -now at Atlanta United FC-.
But the part that could affect Messi's signing comes with the reduction of "Allocation Money" - the money used by clubs to sign non-franchise players - by 2.5 million in the 21-22 and 22-23 seasons. In the 20-21 season that amount has been 4.6 million dollars; in the 21-22 and 22-23 it will be 9 million, from which the 2.5 million will have to be subtracted from the sanction, leaving 6.5 million for the two seasons; and in 2024 it will be 5 million euros again. "It's a very big blow," says Vaquero because it would lower the level of Messi's future teammates at the South Florida club.
The doubts about the arrival of the Argentine star to "soccer" start with knowing which team would pay the fee and how they would do it. Manuel Vaquero is betting that Messi will be a "Designated Player", the doubt is how to deal with that payroll. It is said that Barça will pay 60 million. It's strange because the club is going to pay 120 million in two years to a player who is not going to play for them". And he opens a melon that the two teams have to evaluate, "if in Miami Messi gets injured, for example, in September 2025, is Barcelona going to pay him 120 million to play for a year? Another matter would be for Laporta to explain to the soçi how he's going to justify paying a payroll for a player they won't see at Camp Nou.
The solution can be glimpsed because MLS regulations are transparent. Manuel Vaquero bets that "Inter Miami will enter into the payment. It would pay no more than $10m to Messi. Barça would pay a little less. The most likely scenario is that Barça will pay 60 million and Miami will pay the "Designated Player" part, which could be around 8 million. In other words, Messi would receive 60+8 million in each of the two seasons. Miami knows that this payment would be under the scrutiny of the MLS because of the background and they would have to present all the papers in order". But there is something else and that is how Messi arrives in Miami, "it is rare that he makes sure in 2021 that the deal is done with Miami. MLS will want to know if he arrives as a free player, on loan, signed... there are many gaps in this whole issue".
It will be good for MLS that Leo Messi lands in one of its clubs with more Latin fans and celebrities and with the advertising reference that Beckham continues to be. But its laws are inflexible and will not alter the "status quo" of the competition. It will be Barça and Miami who will adapt to welcome the 10.