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Lionel Messi back to Newell’s Old Boys: Is Inter Miami superstar still planning on ending his career back at his boyhood club in Argentina?

Lionel Messi

The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner will face his very first club on Thursday – what are the chances of him returning home to play before he retires?

Throughout Lionel Messi’s historic career, the Argentine has achieved more than he could ever have imagined. Winning a World Cup with his national team? Done. Trophies at Barcelona? More than he can count. A place in history? Totally solidified, with many saying Messi may well be the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boots.

If Messi started his career with a series of dreams, he’s achieved every single one. Well, almost… There’s still one thing Messi has not done, one challenge he has not conquered. That dream still unlived is actually his very first one: to don the colors of his beloved Newell’s Old Boys.

Messi grew up with Newell’s. They were his first club, his hometown team. His career, though, took him elsewhere. Messi never got the chance to play for an Argentinian club; he never got the chance to suit up for his beloved Newell’s.

On Thursday, he’ll play against his boyhood team. The Argentinian side will visit DRV-PNK Stadium to face Messi’s latest club, Inter Miami, in a friendly. It’s a match designed specifically to honor Messi, bringing his present and past together for one last tune-up before the MLS season begins.

At age 36, Messi will certainly appreciate the occasion, but this friendly also brings up that one big lingering question: does Messi still have time to fulfil his one last dream before it’s all over?

Growing up as Messi

Every fan has a club, the one that first made you fall in love with the game. For Messi, arguably the greatest of all time, that club is Newell’s.

His story is well-known. Born in Rosario, Messi was the third of four children. He fell in love with the game from a young age, and as a child, he attended Newell’s games with his family, giving him a first taste of what the sport could look like.

By the time he was six years old, Messi was with the club’s academy, and it didn’t take long for him to stand out. A part of an unbeatable youth team dubbed ‘The Machine of 87’, Messi scored nearly 500 goals for Newell’s youth teams, seemingly marking himself as a future star for the club.

It never came to be, though. When he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at age 10, the Messi family was unable to cover the cost of treatment. Newell’s promised to contribute, but ended up backing out. After a trial at Barcelona, however, Messi found a club that would cover the cost. The rest, as we all know, is history.

Messi never got to play a top-flight match for his boyhood club. Still, despite all he’s achieved, Newell’s has never left the back of his mind.

Dreaming of Newell’s

For years, Messi has spoken of his desire to someday return home. Since moving to Barcelona as a child, Argentina has never been his permanent home. His career has taken him to Catalunya, Paris and Miami… someday, he hopes it brings him back to his homeland.

The dream has always been to play for Newell’s, to have one last hurrah with the club he cared about most as a boy. He’s done so a few times for friendlies, notably scoring a hat-trick in a testimonial for long-time teammate Maxi Rodriguez last year, but a more permanent return would be his way of giving back.

“Yes. That’s what I’ve always said, haven’t I?” he told FIFA in 2019 when asked if the plan was to return to Newell’s. “It’s a childhood dream of mine to play in the Newell’s shirt, though I don’t know if I can make it happen. It’s not just down to me, though. I’ve got three children.”

Messi, though, had a chance to make that dream come true last summer. He chose a different option.

South Beach calls

In the summer of 2023, Messi hit the open market. His contract with Paris Saint-Germain had expired, and the world was waiting to see where the legendary Argentine would end up. Would he return to Barcelona? Could he go to Saudi Arabia? Was it time for that storybook ending back home?

Instead, Messi chose a different adventure: Inter Miami. By signing on with the Herons, he became the face of MLS, a massive figure driving the growth of the league, both in the United States and abroad. Miami was chosen for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the opportunity for Messi step out of the spotlight a bit and live something resembling a normal life in a non-soccer obsessed locale.

If Messi did choose Newell’s, nothing about that move would have been normal. The attention would have been unfathomable. Argentine football has had its issues and, with three young kids to worry about, Messi instead chose a different sort of lifestyle in South Beach.

“It is more or less the same, as a sport, but people experience it differently. People in Argentina are crazier, not winning the derby means a lot,” he told TyC in 2019. “[At Barcelona] you want to win, but if you lose it’s OK. Over there, you cannot leave your house if you lose a derby.

“The madness you see day after day carries over to football and it is a disaster. We see it in the [World Cup] qualifiers, although it is different. We had to go all over South America and it’s tough too. You can’t sleep, fans spend the whole night throwing everything at you in hotels. Libertadores games must be even worse.”

He’d previously spoken on the subject to America TV in 2018, saying: “You can get killed over a bicycle. There are robberies everywhere and you cannot even walk down the street because you have to watch out over whether something happens. I know there are a lot more problems in Argentina, but safety is essential.”

That’s not to say Newell’s wasn’t considered, though. The club recruited him on social media, although that was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Messi’s long-time friend, Sergio Aguero, added a bit more life to the rumor, saying: “He [Messi] is seriously considering the possibility of playing for Newell’s.”

Despite his decision to join Miami, Newell’s is still calling, as Messi could still follow in the footsteps of another Argentinian great.

Emulating Maradona

At the end of his own legendary career, Diego Maradona came home. His return came under much different circumstances than the potential Messi arrival, as Maradona’s European career was dwindling due to his drugs ban, but the moment was just as large. After all of those years, Diego was back in Argentina.

Maradona, of course, was and still is an important figure in Messi’s life. Always compared to the mighty Argentinian hero, Messi has earned his place next to him, particularly after his World Cup win in Qatar.

Before his career’s end, Maradona made a brief stop at Newell’s. He played just a handful of games for the club in 1993-94 before returning to Boca Juniors, but those games made a massive impact on young Messi.

“I don’t remember much, I was only little, but I saw Maradona on the pitch the day he made his debut against Emelec,” Messi told.

When Maradona passed in 2020, Messi paid homage to his predecessor with a touching tribute. After scoring for Barcelona against Osasuna, Messi was nearly moved to tears. He pointed to the sky to honor the late, great Diego, and as he did so, he removed his Barcelona shirt to reveal a different top: A Newell’s No.10 in honor of Maradona.

Back in 2021, then-Newell’s coach German Burgos backed Messi to follow in Maradona’s footsteps by eventually donning the club’s shirt. “I think, one day, he’s going to pass through here,” he told La Capital. “Because if Diego Maradona played here, Messi will also want to play in Newell’s. I think at some point that will pass. Hopefully, it will be soon.”

A special friendly

Regardless of what happens, Messi will get a special moment involving Newell’s on Thursday. On that night, he will get the opportunity to go head-to-head with his boyhood team.

It comes at the tail end of a horrendous preseason on and off the field for Inter Miami. This friendly, though, is a chance to end things on a high, particularly for Messi.

He isn’t the only one that is looking forward to this, though, as Inter Miami boss Tata Martino will also be overcome with nostalgia. Martino himself played for Newell’s from 1980-90, and then again from 1991-94 and again in 1995. In total, he made nearly 500 appearances for the club before going on to manage the team between 2012-13 before, like Messi, making the leap to Barcelona.

“I am delighted to welcome my beloved Newell’s to our home here in Miami. It will be a special match due to everything Newell’s Old Boys means to me,” said Martino. “It will also be a good opportunity to prepare for what will surely be an exciting season.”

Still hope of a return?

Messi’s Inter Miami contract may not be his last. It’s set to expire after the 2025 MLS season, opening the door for a potential move back home in 2026.It’ll come just before the World Cup, when Messi and Argentina will look to defend their title from 2022. It remains to be seen how long Messi will continue to play for his country, but that opportunity may be too good for him to pass up.

If Messi does wish to play in that World Cup, a move back to Newell’s could very much be in the cards. According to El Nacional, Messi is already considering that heroic return in 2025. He aims to retire at his hometown club, writing one final chapter after his American adventure is over.

Will he follow his heart or his head? Will his career have that storybook ending? Will childhood Messi get to live out his dreams after conquering the rest of the world?

No one knows but Messi. The decision will come down to him and him alone. Newell’s will surely want him, as well plenty of other clubs, meaning Messi will have quite the decision to make.