John Barnes is not convinced that the arrival of Lionel Messi will help MLS become one of the biggest sporting events in the United States.
Messi joined Inter Miami and the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner turned down a move to Saudi Arabia to join MLS.
The 36-year-old, joined in Florida by Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, is set to make his Miami League Cup debut against Cruz Azul on Friday, and the buzz surrounding his arrival has understandably been huge.
However, former Liverpool star Barnes isn’t sure if Messi is enough to make football as popular as basketball or American football in the US.
Barnes cited global superstars who left to play in the US in the 1970s as an example that football cannot bridge the gap.
He told Stats Perform: “Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johann Cruyff went to America in the 1970s, three of the best players in the world, and what was the seismic shift then?
“The fact that now we have 35 and 36-year-olds, what’s the difference? Nothing new. There is nothing new in life, in football.
“People forget that this has happened before, and of course the shift in football is not the same as in Saudi Arabia, it is not about acquiring two or three superstars.
“It’s about developing other players and bringing in other players, not just paying big money for two or three superstars.
“Yes, you can sell it however you want. But until our football overtakes basketball, American football and baseball, nothing much will change in America.
“So I don’t see it really affecting that.”
Leo first week in pic.twitter.com/O3Je17UmZ1
— Inter Miami FC (@InterMiamiCF) July 20, 2023
However, Gary McAllister, another former Liverpool player, did not fully share Barnes’s views.
Indeed, McAllister believes Messi’s move to MLS is comparable to David Beckham’s move to LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007.
“I think with the pictures I’ve seen so far, I think it’s like when David Beckham went to MLS too,” McAllister said.
“It’s brought so much attention to the sport and it’s really grown, I think, looking at how much variety there is.”
McAllister admits that football still has a long way to go to catch up with the NFL or NBA.
He added: “This is a competition with sports that have been around for a very long time and have done very well. But I think he’s still a player who has a lot to give, and knowing where he plays, the game in the US is heavily influenced by the Latino, so I think he’ll bring the fans to the stadiums.
“If you look at attendance across the board in the US and MLS, it’s definitely on the rise. And catching someone like Messi is a big hit for both MLS and Miami.”