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Lionel Messi named TIME's 2023 Athlete of the Year; confirms Barcelona homecoming was real consideration

In a year filled with triumphs and accolades, Lionel Messi, the Argentine football legend and former Barcelona captain, has been named TIME magazine's Athlete of the Year for 2023.

football Lionel Messi named TIME's 2023 Athlete of the Year; confirms Barcelona homecoming was real consideration snt
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First Published Dec 5, 2023, 9:45 PM IST

In a year filled with triumphs and accolades, Lionel Messi, the football legend and former Barcelona captain, has been named TIME magazine's Athlete of the Year for 2023. The 36-year-old Argentine superstar has had an extraordinary 12 months, including winning the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with Argentina and securing his eighth Ballon d'Or. However, what captured the headlines was his summer transfer to Inter Miami, as he opened up about his aspirations, challenges, and the road that led him to Major League Soccer (MLS) team Inter Miami.

Messi's return to Barcelona was a saga eagerly followed by football enthusiasts worldwide. The football icon, who left Barcelona two years earlier due to economic constraints, expressed his desire to rejoin the Catalan club after his contract with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) expired. In an interview with TIME, Messi revealed that Barcelona was his first choice, emphasizing the sentimental value of a potential reunion with his former club.

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Despite Messi's eagerness to return to Barcelona, the stars did not align for the homecoming. The interview disclosed that negotiations and discussions explored all possible avenues, but circumstances did not favor a return to Camp Nou. Messi acknowledged the challenges and complexities involved in the decision-making process, stating that he had to weigh various options with his family before arriving at a final decision.

In the absence of a Barcelona reunion, Messi opted for a new adventure in the MLS, signing with Inter Miami. The decision marked a significant chapter in Messi's illustrious career as he embraced the challenges of a different league and a new footballing landscape. The interview highlighted Messi's appreciation for the interesting opportunities presented by both Saudi Arabia and the MLS, ultimately leading to his decision to join the Miami-based franchise.

“The truth is that fortunately, I had several options on the table that were interesting, and I had to analyze them and think, even weigh them up with my family, before making the final decision to come to Miami,” Messi told TIME.

“My first option was to return to Barcelona, but it was not possible. I tried to return, and it did not happen,” he confirmed.

“It was Saudi Arabia or MLS, and both options seemed very interesting to me,” the 2022 World Cup winner added, once a return to Barcelona was no longer on the table.

While Messi may not have returned to Barcelona as a player, the Catalans are reportedly planning a tribute match for their former captain. This gesture aims to honor Messi's contributions to the club over the years and celebrate his legacy. The match is expected to take place once the renovation of the iconic Spotify Camp Nou is completed, promising a memorable occasion for fans and players alike.

Also read: Paris Saint-Germain's dressing room embraces unity post Messi and Neymar exits

As Lionel Messi reflects on a year filled with triumphs, challenges, and important choices, his journey continues to captivate the world of football. The TIME Athlete of the Year accolade is a testament to his enduring influence and remarkable achievements. Whether on the grand stage of the World Cup, the glamour of the Ballon d'Or ceremony, or the challenges of a new league in Miami, Messi's impact remains indelible, and his legacy continues to unfold in the pages of football history.

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