What does Messi and Ronaldo leaving Europe mean for football?

On June 7, a shock reverberated through the football world. Lionel Messi was to leave Europe. 

It was announced that Messi would not be signing a new deal with PSG at the end of the season, and instead would be moving to Inter Miami, to play football (rather, soccer) in North America.

We all know Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia at the end of last year.

The upcoming season is the first since 2002, when neither Messi nor Ronaldo will be playing in Europe.

 Simply put, it feels definitively like the end of an era. Let’s consider what it means for Football.

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The New Generation rises 

It’s safe to say that as long as Messi and Ronaldo dominated the European football scene, other players, especially the new generation never had a real chance to truly shine (get recognised). Think of 2021, when Robert Lewandowski was robbed of the Ballon d’Or, with France Football instead presenting it to Lionel Messi. 

Despite Messi undeniably being one of the best of all time, he wasn’t really deserving of this honor. Lewandowski, over the course of the calendar year, had scored 23 more goals than the Argentine, hitting the back of the net 64 times in 2021. If 2020 was taken into account (a year when the Ballon d’Or was not awarded), 47 would have been added to the Pole’s tally.

In comparison, Messi scored 41 goals. An outstanding statistic, no doubt, but when compared to Lewandowski’s machine-like efficiency in front of the net, it becomes apparent who truly deserved the award. 

Examples like these show how the footballing world has had an unshakable obsession with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, built upon season after season of skill, showmanship and stardom, which overshadowed the talent many other players had, for the past two decades.

With the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry coming to an end, fans, media and clubs will be searching for the next big, era-defining player. Could be Erling Haaland, could be Kylian Mbappe, or maybe some underground talent yet to sparkle. 

With the whole world searching for a new rivalry, upcoming talents will get more attention and recognition, with no Messi or Ronaldo obsession.

Promotion of Football in Saudi Arabia

The top five leagues in Europe get the most recognition. With Messi now in the US, and Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia, it is almost a certainty that these two leagues will gain a popularity boost.

Despite Ronaldo being signed for a massive fee of $215.76 million, within 10 days, “they (Al-Nassr) went from under a million fans to eight million”, according to Neil Joyce, CEO of the CLV group. More fans will draw more attention and in effect, boost tourism to Saudi Arabia.

It is no surprise that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has now acquired both Messi and Ronaldo as tourism ambassadors, which will certainly draw more fan following to the kingdom.

With the World Cup recently being hosted in that region, Saudi Arabia and its surrounding countries will potentially become a major football capital in the not-too-distant future, boosted by the acquisition of Ronaldo, expanding the reach of Football in the Middle East.

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Promotion of Football in the USA

The USA and North America are one of the more underdeveloped regions in terms of Football. These nations, however, were in a worse condition in the 1960s and early 70s. During this time, football was barely a sport in American minds. The public opted to watch “American Football”, rather than “Soccer”.

This changed when Pelé signed for New York Cosmos in the latter stages of his playing career. Thirty-four–year-old Pelé came out of retirement to join New York Cosmos, in the North American Soccer League, United States’ first successful attempt at welcoming and popularizing football, the game the rest of the world revered.

If Pelé had not joined New York Cosmos, the birth of MLS may never have happened, and icons like Johan Cruyff, and David Beckham may never have played in North America. The USA may never have won hosting rights for the 1994 World Cup, and very soon, the upcoming 2026 edition. 

Simply put, the arrival of Pelé in the US sparked massive interest in football across the continent. 

A similar shift can be predicted with Leo Messi’s arrival.

Already, Inter Miami’s season tickets have sold out, just three days after signing the Argentine. Long-term this will bode well for their soccer scene, as along with Messi more sponsorships, TV deals and money will follow. This will prompt increased interest in US Football.

His arrival will certainly push more fans towards the MLS, and may even attract other stars looking to play out their final days. This popularity can massively help USA grow in importance and strength in the footballing world. 

To conclude, with both Messi and Ronaldo now displaying their talents outside of Europe, an era of football has ended. It will be exciting to see where the new era takes us, and who will be involved.

The Author

Aaditya Das Narayan

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