logo
logo
Milan Italy 15 February 2009, "G.MEAZZA SAN SIRO " Stadium, Serious Football Championship A 2008/2009, FC Inter - AC Milan : David Beckham during the match

Messi next? 5 MLS superstars that returned to Europe on loan

Lionel Messi looks set to wave goodbye to Europe and put pen to paper on a deal that would make him an Inter Miami player, but there are still suggestions that his time in football’s top five leagues still isn’t quite over.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner basically completed football in late 2022 when he captained Argentina to World Cup glory. While he couldn’t quite deliver much-coveted European glory for PSG, he ended his European career with yet another league title.

Even the best have a sell-by date, unfortunately, and while a move to Major League Soccer certainly doesn’t mean the end of Messi as a whole, it marks quite an important chapter in his book. Still, though, if he fancied one last, temporary hurrah in Europe in the form of a loan switch to his beloved Barca, he wouldn’t be the first to do so.

David Beckham

Not content with life in Los Angeles, Beckham still had ambitions to play football in Europe despite making a trailblazing move to the MLS in 2007, with one eye on his business interests after retiring.

In a bid to try and maintain fitness during the MLS off-season, he made the switch to AC Milan in January 2009, but would return to LA Galaxy for the start of their season in March. Of course the most fashionable man in football had to join Milan.

He made the exact same loan move at the same time a year later, and would play at Old Trafford in the Champions League as a result. The second loan resulted in an MLS season-ending injury, though. Oops. At least we got cool pictures out of it, though.

LA Galaxy fans weren’t exactly thrilled with his European endeavours, welcoming him back home the first time round with banners that read “Go Home Fraud”. Ouch. Perhaps he’ll give Messi a word of warning.

Landon Donovan

Quite possibly the greatest American player ever, Donovan spent the early years of his career with Bayer Leverkusen before heading back to the states with the LA Galaxy. However, in what became a bit of a common occurrence for the top players in the MLS at the time, he moved away on loan during the off season.

His first off-season loan was to Bayern Munich in 2009, where he barely made a splash. Where he earned real cult hero status, though, was Everton. Donovan signed for the Toffees on loan in early 2010 and earned the club’s Player of the Month award for January. They were keen to extend his loan, but weren’t able to due to Galaxy declining.

Donovan wanted another taste of Goodison Park – no, really – a year later and came back for another brief loan, enjoying another successful spell and finishing up with seven assists before heading back to the States.

Robbie Keane

Having left behind the Premier League in 2011, Keane was back a year later during the MLS off-season. Are you sensing a theme here?

Due to the MLS campaign running from March to October, it leaves players still on a European timeline feeling a little odd, clearly. Keane signed for Aston Villa on loan in 2012 and scored a match-winning brace on his full debut against Wolves. Still had it in him.

Clint Dempsey

Having become a bit of a trailblazer for Americans in the Premier League, being essentially the first of his kind to come to England and find success, Dempsey took advantage of the winter loan upon returning to Seattle Sounders after spells at Fulham and Tottenham.

He played some of his best stuff for the Cottagers, thus opted to return there in 2014 for a two-month loan. It wasn’t anywhere near as successful as his first spell, though, and after it expired without Fulham clarifying his future, Dempsey re-appeared in a Sounders squad when their season started in March.

Thierry Henry

Beckham’s was fashionable, but Henry’s was sheer romance.

Five years after leaving the club to sign for Barcelona, Henry made a temporary return to Arsenal in 2012, having trained with the club in the New York Red Bulls’ off-season. Arsene Wenger had called on his old pal with Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh away at the Africa Cup of Nations, and boy did he pick up.

Coming off the bench for an incredibly emotional second debut for Arsenal against Leeds United in the FA Cup, the perfect story became even more perfect; he scored the winner. And in his final game for the club before returning to New York, he bagged another winner, securing three points against Sunderland. The stuff of dreams.


READ NEXT: David Beckham at AC Milan: Proving he was a footballer before a superstar

TRY A QUIZ: Can you name Arsenal’s Xl from Thierry Henry’s second debut, 2012?