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De Bruyne, Pulisic & 10 stars who could follow Messi to MLS.

De Bruyne, Pulisic & 10 stars who could follow Messi to MLS.

Lionel Messi’s 2023 transfer to Inter Miami has changed the landscape of MLS forever; no longer viewed as a ‘retirement league’, clubs in the U.S. are now challenging for the signatures of some of the biggest names on the planet while they are still at the peak of their powers.

Saudi Arabia will provide stiff competition as the go-to, desirable destination outside of European football, but the effect of capturing the greatest player in the modern era – and arguably of all time – is already clear to see.

But who are the stars who could be next to follow Messi to MLS while still at the very top of the game? EPRODITY runs through the possibilities…

Antoine Griezmann

Let’s start with the obvious. Griezmann is a veritable Yankophile and has put on record on multiple occasions his desire to live and work in the United States in the future. An avid American sports fan, the Frenchman even hosts a Spanish-language YouTube show about American football – NFL’s Grizi Huddle.

Now 33, you’d think a move stateside wouldn’t be too far away now, although Griezmann is in the form of his life in Spain with Atletico Madrid. Speaking in December, he said: “Beyond Europe, what I would like later is the MLS, I have always recognised that. But Atletico will be almost 100 percent my last club in Europe. It’s where I want to be, where I see myself happiest and here I am at home.”

Christian Pulisic

Pulisic’s homecoming would be a great thing for American soccer, although it’s unclear exactly when the star of the U.S. men’s national team will be willing to leave Europe behind to return to the States. Indeed, the 25-year-old clearly feels he has unfinished business across the Atlantic as he stars for AC Milan, suggesting last year that he will probably only head to MLS for his swansong.

Speaking on Tim Ream’s ‘The American Dream’ podcast about playing in MLS and a potential timeline, the attacker said: “Absolutely, I’d love to. Not in the, you know, near-near future for sure, but yeah, I absolutely would love to. Towards the end of my career, I’d love to.”

Pulisic added in January: “Obviously, I’m not an old player. I hopefully have some great years in Europe ahead of me. I’m loving my time here, so of course MLS is not in my head at the moment.”

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Kevin De Bruyne

Could one of the greatest attacking midfielders of all time one day grace MLS? Although he hasn’t spoken publicly about it, a move to the U.S. is supposedly something De Bruyne is thinking about.

According to The Athletic, the Belgian has always considered finishing his career in MLS, and he would potentially prefer that over a touted move to Saudi Arabia for himself and his family, even if the money is worse.

De Bruyne’s future at Manchester City is uncertain, too, with his contract due to expire in 2025 and no talks over an extension, with the club reluctant to hand a multi-year deal to a player who will turn 33 in June. It is said City would sell if their £90 million ($114m) valuation is met, although that may be a little steep for MLS clubs.

Olivier Giroud

Giroud feels almost nailed-on to become the next star of European football to make the switch to MLS – potentially joining long-time France team-mate Hugo Lloris at LAFC.

When asked about a potential move stateside in January, the striker said: “MLS? There are other countries too. There will be more opportunities at the end of the season and I’ll decide. As a father and as a footballer.”

Since then, the Los Angeles club has made its move, engaging in negotiations with the Frenchman – who has supposedly chosen to live in either New York or LA – over a summer move. The 37-year-old is out of contract at AC Milan at the end of the season and would arrive as a free agent as talks progress. There is, however, still the possibility he could extend his stay at San Siro, as he enjoys another fine season in Italy.

Robert Lewandowski

MLS’ chance to land Lewandowski may have passed it by, but there will surely be some lingering hope he can be tempted across the pond. Speaking last year, the prolific Pole said: “Before the coronavirus pandemic, the idea of MLS was firmly in my head, but somehow I changed my mind afterward. After the Barcelona chapter, it’s hard to imagine going there.”

However, football is a fickle business and the Barcelona man could surely still be convinced. Indeed, it was reported in late 2023 that the striker was on the transfer shortlist of multiple MLS clubs ahead of the 2024 season, including Chicago Fire. A transfer never materialised in the offseason, but it will be a situation to watch in the summer.

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Luka Modric

Modric is another European star who hasn’t addressed the possibility of moving to MLS, but a transfer could become a distinct possibility depending on how things play out in the coming months. The 38-year-old Croatian is believed to have grown frustrated with his bit-part role at Real Madrid this season, and he has not been offered fresh terms despite his contract expiring at the end of the campaign.

It seems all but certain, then, that the midfield maestro will either hang up his boots or head for pastures new, amid interest from both MLS and Saudi Arabia. It has been rumoured that he could join Messi at Inter Miami, having been spotted on vacation with co-owner David Beckham last summer.

Neymar

Neymar was linked with all manner of clubs when it became evident his journey at Paris Saint-Germain was coming to an abrupt end last summer, and that included sides in the MLS such as LAFC.

However, by the time those links came to light, it actually would have been impossible for him to make the switch anyway, with the deadline for MLS clubs registering new players actually having passed. Neymar headed to Saudi Arabia instead and, of course, things have not gone to plan there.

The Brazilian has flirted with the idea of playing in the United States recently, admitting in March that he would like to play alongside Inter Miami’s Messi once again after their time together at Barcelona. “I hope we do play together again,” he said. “Leo is a great person. Anyone in football, everyone knows him. I think he is very happy. If he is happy, I am too.”

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Aubameyang is another of those who was hesitant to move stateside in the past, but whose stance may well now have shifted. As they sought a replacement for the retired Gareth Bale, LAFC pushed hard to sign the striker ahead of the 2023 MLS season after he had become an outcast in an ill-fated spell at Chelsea, but despite having limited options, he was reluctant to leave Europe at that point in his career.

Aubameyang has been vindicated in that decision, instead returning to Ligue 1 and joining Marseille in the summer before going on to make 32 goal contributions by the end of March. The Gabon frontman still has two years to run on his contract, but at 34, a final flourish in MLS may become increasingly appealing.

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Kylian Mbappe

Now, Mbappe hasn’t explicitly said he plans to move to MLS, but he has recently recognised the potential of a transfer outside of Europe’s major leagues following the exodus to Saudi Arabia and, of course, Messi’s blockbuster switch to MLS.

“Many great players who have left their mark on football history have left Europe this summer and we are entering a new era of football,” Mbappe told GQ in January. “It’s the normal cycle of this sport and at one point it will be my turn to leave. These changes do not concern me and I am simply thinking of continuing my career following my own path.”

Even more tantalisingly, back in 2019 Mbappe said: “We don’t know what happens in football. Now in the USA, a lot of great players come after their careers in Europe, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, great players. You don’t know what can happen, maybe when I’m a little older I can think about this.”

If that isn’t enough to get fans excited about a possible move to the U.S. for Mbappe, then it’s worth noting that he’s also a big basketball fan and has enjoyed various trips to the States in the past. It was even rumoured that MLS might attempt to engineer a Messi-esque deal to bring him sign him when his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expires in the summer.

Harry Kane

Kane is at the peak of his powers in European football and will have no plans to leave anytime soon having only recently headed to Bavaria in search of major silverware with Bayern Munich. He has, though, regularly spoken of his desire to try his hand at American football once his career in soccer is over – but why not give MLS a spin first to settle in?

Most recently discussed a possible move into NFL, Kane said: “That’s at least something that I have in the back of my mind. I have the feeling that I still have many, many years ahead of me as a footballer – but so much can happen, things change so quickly.

“As I get closer to the end of my football career, I might take a closer look and start practising a bit. Making it to the highest level in two different sports – soccer and football – would be a good idea, something very special.”

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