Messi’s MLS move signals end to golden era for European soccer

Lionel Messi has made up his mind. The Barcelona legend is neither returning to Spain nor heading for Saudi Arabia, despite the dizzying salary tabled.

Messi is joining Major League Soccer and will take the field for Inter Miami next month as the marquee signing in MLS history. His departure for the United States also draws a golden era in European soccer to a close.

Cristiano and Benzema: Two former Real Madrid stars in Saudi Arabia

Aside from Messi and the 37 trophies he won as a player for Barcelona and PSG, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema have also left Europe after triumphant careers on the continent.

Benzema‘s departure for Saudi club Al-Ittihad has been confirmed on a contract to 2026. Benzema, the reigning Ballon d’Or winner, became Madrid’s talisman over the past five years, scoring at least 19 league goals in each season and playing an instrumental role as Madrid conquered LaLiga and the UEFA Champions League in 2022.

Ronaldo, who left Madrid as its all-time top scorer with 450 goals, joined Al-Nassr on a two-year deal in January. Though he scored 14 goals in 16 games in the Saudi Pro League, his Al-Nassr side finished second in the table this season.

Zlatan announces retirement

Unlike Messi, Ronaldo, and Benzema, Zlatan Ibrahimovic never won a Ballon d’Or — and he has decided to call time on his professional career.

Ibrahimovic confirmed his retirement on Sunday, following AC MIlan’s season-ending 3-1 win over Verona. Zlatan ended his career with 32 trophies and one fourth-place finish for the Ballon d’Or in 2013, when he was a PSG player.

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Although he never won the Ballon d’Or or the Champions League, Zlatan is another player whose quality defined an entire generation of European soccer — in the vein of Cristiano, Karim, and Lionel.

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