Is messi still playing soccer ? As painfully true as it sounds, it’s one of the unfortunate realities of life – and it also applies to soccer. With the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar almost complete, the quadrennial tournament has provided a platform for some of the globe’s biggest stars to compete for a chance to represent their country in a tournament like no other.
However, some stars could be playing in their final tournament due to how old they’ll be for the next World Cup in 2026.
This year, though, will hit harder than previous ones, as some of the biggest names in the history of the sport are likely writing their final chapters at the World Cup. Let’s take a look at which players could be playing in the tournament for the last time in Qatar:
Lionel Messi, Argentina
It’s already been confirmed by the man himself – Qatar will be his last. Messi will go down as not just one of the best soccer players to ever take the field, but one of the best athletes of all time. Messi is currently 35 years old and will be 39 in four years, so now is the moment for Argentina to make a run so “La Pulga” can hoist the World Cup trophy for the first time. He has appeared in four World Cups prior to this: 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
As if it couldn’t get any worse for soccer fans, Ronaldo is also a possible name on the list. He posted a cryptic message on social media about his international future following Portugal’s quarterfinals exit against Morocco, and he will be 41 when 2026 rolls around.
If this is Ronaldo’s last World Cup, it will certainly go down as a memorable one. He became the first player to score in five different World Cups, but his time in Qatar was filled with controversy surrounding his club career and his standing with the Portuguese national team.
Luis Suárez, Uruguay
Controversial moments in World Cups but always a threat in front of goal, Suárez may also have competed in his last tournament in Qatar. He’ll turn 36 in January and 39 by 2026, so Uruguay might have had him available one last time. He played in the 2010, 2014 and 2018 editions.
Robert Lewandowski, Poland
One of the best strikers of this generation, Lewandowski is another one to watch. He made his first appearance in the World Cup in 2018 and got his first ever World Cup goal in this year’s group stage against Saudi Arabia. He is currently 34 years old and will be turning 38 in August of 2026, which will be around the time of that World Cup if Poland qualifies.
Manuel Neuer, Germany
Germany is known for producing quality goalkeeper after quality goalkeeper, and Neuer will go down as one of the best shot-stoppers to ever do it. He played in the 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cups, and he earned a title with Germany in 2014. Qatar marked the second straight edition in which Germany failed to make it out of the group stage.
Neuer turns 37 in March next year and would be 40 in 2026.
Gareth Bale, Wales
This was Wales’ first World Cup appearance since 1958, so naturally 2022 marked Bales’ first appearance. However, it might also be his last. He will turn 37 by the time the 2026 World Cup starts, if Wales is to qualify for a second straight time.
Luka Modrić, Croatia
Modrić just turned 37 in September, so he’d be 40 in the summer of 2026. The Croatian maestro has appeared in four World Cups: 2006, 2014, 2018 and 2022. The latter two are the ones he’s most known for, as Croatia made an improbable run to the final before falling to France in 2018 and has made it to the semifinals in 2022. Modrić was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 2018, as well, for his performances internationally and with Real Madrid in Spain.
Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico
If there’s one goalkeeper who has delivered some marvelous World Cup performances in recent tournaments, Ochoa is the one. He’s 37 right now and will be 41 by 2026, which will be the year his nation is a co-host. The Mexican star played in the 2014, 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
Olivier Giroud, France
After Karim Benzema’s late withdrawal from Qatar with an injury, the spotlight reverted to the striker who started for France in its 2018 title run: Olivier Giroud. Giroud failed to write his name on the scoresheet in seven games in Russia, but his chemistry with Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and others played a significant role beyond just goals. Now 36, Giroud surpassed Thierry Henry as Les Bleus’ all-time leading scorer against Poland in Qatar in what might be his last World Cup. He’ll be 39 when the 2026 tournament begins.
And so, he has decided. Major League Soccer has won the Lionel Messi Final Four bracket, defeating Saudi competition in the final after both advanced past romantic long shots: the financially hamstrung Barcelona, where he spent 21 years, and Newell’s Old Boys, the hometown team he supported as a boy.
Messi’s contract with PSG expires at the end of this month, but really, more than a free agent signing, this move is more like a corporate joint venture between Inter Miami, MLS, the league’s broadcast rights holders (Apple), Adidas and the Lionel Andres Messi Corporation. We’ve been here before in 2007, when David Beckham — who, as if to prove the circularity of human existence, is a part-owner of Inter Miami) joined the LA Galaxy. And frankly, it would have been pretty much the same thing if he had opted for the Saudi Pro League, except there it would mostly be one source footing the bill: the country’s sovereign wealth fund.
(Indeed, in what to some might appear as a classic cart-before-the-horse move, Messi signed a reported $400 million contract with the Saudi tourism board … assuming he guaranteed them exclusivity, don’t expect him to be shilling for the delights of South Beach any time soon.)
Commercially, Messi will bring eyeballs to U.S. domestic soccer like nobody before him. More than Beckham, more than Zlatan Ibrahimovic — and for old-timers, more than Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer and Pele, if only because we live in a far more connected world today.
Messi is not a natural pitchman, lacking both Ibrahimovic’s quotability and Beckham’s charisma, but hey: he’s Messi. He delivered the World Cup for Argentina less than six months ago, he has seven Ballons d’Or at home (winning the last of those 18 months ago) and he has scored more than 800 goals for club and country in his career.
He’s not the first legit GOAT candidate to play in North America because Pele was there in the 1970s, but the key difference is that half a century later, Messi will land in a very different country — one that is more diverse and more soccer-savvy, and one where he’s seen as a legitimate athlete, not a guy who plays the sport because he’s too uncoordinated to play baseball, too small to play basketball and too weak to play football.
You also suspect that Messi can deliver on the pitch. His two years at PSG ended in acrimony, with Messi booed by his own fans and most seeing his stint as a gigantic waste of money. He turns 36 in a couple of weeks and has neither the stamina, nor acceleration, he once had. In fact, he spends much of the game literally at walking pace: he doesn’t press at all and the team has to be built around him.
Yet he still delivered a league-leading 14 assists while scoring 16 goals, none of them from the penalty spot, for PSG. That’s because, interspersed with his placid strolls around the pitch, are sudden bursts of genius and acceleration that still befuddle most opponents, the sort of thing you can keep doing even into your late 30s. (Well, if you’re Messi anyway.)
Maybe it was inevitable that, having finally conquered the World Cup, he would opt to conquer a new world rather than revisit his past, ultimately plumping for North America over the Gulf.
Fans in North America should count themselves lucky. Because if you attend the right MLS game, you may be able to one day tell your grandkids that you saw Messi in the flesh. Just like your dad tells you he saw Michael Jordan, your grandfather tells you he saw Muhammad Ali and your great-grandfather tells you he saw Babe Ruth.
Messi can take MLS to the moon — and beyond
Securing one of the biggest prizes in world soccer in Messi provides a surge of rocket fuel to an organization that is in desperate need of a lift.
Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas has been angling to acquire Messi practically from the moment he and co-owners Beckham and Jose Mas were awarded the team in 2018. Now he has his man.
There will be inevitable comparisons to when MLS convinced Beckham to join the Galaxy in 2007, and there are similarities in that there are financial incentives beyond salary that helped cinch the deal.
In Beckham’s case it was a discounted price on an MLS expansion team, which in a bit of serendipity became Inter Miami. Sources confirmed a report from The Athletic that Messi has an option to acquire an ownership stake in Inter Miami, although a source with knowledge of the situation said it will not come at a discount like Beckham’s deal did.
ESPN can also confirm that a cut of revenue from new subscribers to Apple’s MLS Season Pass streaming service is being offered to Messi. Any agreement involving Adidas would strictly be between the player and the company, and it wouldn’t directly involve MLS, despite the German company outfitting the league’s clubs exclusively since 2006.
All of that said, the times — and needs — of MLS are different. When Beckham signed on in 2007, MLS was still trying to get off the launch pad with just 13 teams. His arrival not only set the stage for other stars such as Thierry Henry and Kaka to come over, but also helped accelerate an expansion boom that by next season will have reached 30 teams.
Messi’s arrival is poised to take MLS to the moon, or even beyond. He is arguably the greatest player who ever lived, something Beckham never was.
The league has been laying the foundation for this move for years, with the increased continental footprint combining well with the global reach of its recent broadcast rights deal with Apple TV. With the 2026 World Cup set to take place in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, the potential is there to greatly increase revenues for all parties involved in the deal.
As for Inter Miami, Messi is a massive antidote for a last-place team who have struggled to generate quality chances, with their expected goal (xG) mark of 0.82 per 90 minutes the worst in the league. If former teammate Sergio Busquets also arrives, so much the better, although there will need to be some adapting to a league that is several notches below what they are accustomed to, not to mention the weather and travel demands. The sight of Messi playing in an 18,000-seat stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will take some getting used to.
Messi couldn’t wait for Barcelona again
Barcelona supporters and even some of the club’s hierarchy were split when the possibility of Messi returning surfaced. There were those who thought, after blooding a new generation of youngsters and winning a first LaLiga title since 2019, it was time to turn the page as Messi approaches the end of his career.
There were others, though, who were caught up in the romance of a homecoming for the club’s greatest ever player. Forced to leave in 2021 because Barca could not afford to register the contract they had offered him, this was a chance for Messi to say goodbye properly to fans who have chanted his name in the 10th minute of every home game at Spotify Camp Nou since March.
Besides, there is an overwhelming argument to be made that he remains among the best players in the world. Six months ago he led Argentina to the World Cup, while he registered 21 goals and 20 assists across all competitions for PSG this season.
What at first seemed a pipe dream slowly began to feel like a reality. Even some supporters who had been happy to pass on Messi got on board with the idea that, as the club’s vice president Rafa Yuste said at any opportunity, love stories should have beautiful endings.
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