John Barnes is not convinced Lionel Messi’s arrival will help propel MLS into being one of the biggest sporting competitions in the United States.
Messi has joined Inter Miami, with the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner snubbing a move to Saudi Arabia in order to head to MLS.
The 36-year-old, who has been joined in Florida by Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, made his Miami debut in the Leagues Cup against Cruz Azul on Friday and scored a last-ditch winner.
Yet former Liverpool star Barnes is unsure whether Messi is enough to make football as popular as basketball or American football in the USA.
Barnes referenced global superstars who went to play in the USA in the 1970s as an example of football being unable to bridge the gap.
He said to 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?
“So the fact that we’ve got some 35 and 36-year-olds going now, what difference is there? There’s nothing new. In life, in football, there’s nothing new.
“People forget that this happened before and, of course, the shift in football isn’t like in Saudi Arabia, it’s not about getting two or three superstars.
“It’s about developing the other players and having other players going there, not just paying lots of money for two or three superstars.
“Yes, you can market him in whichever way you want. But until our football, overtakes basketball, American football and baseball, nothing will really change in America.
“So I can’t see that really impacting over there.”
Gary McAllister, another ex-Liverpool player, did not wholly echo Barnes’ sentiment, though.
Indeed, McAllister believes Messi’s move to MLS is comparable to that of David Beckham, who joined LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007.
“I think with the pictures I’ve seen so far on his arrival, I think it’s similar to when David Beckham went to MLS as well,” McAllister said.
“That brought so much publicity to the sport in that country and it has really grown, I think looking at the way with the diversity over there as well.”
McAllister acknowledges football still has a way to go to catch up to the NFL or NBA.
He added: “It’s competing against sports that have been there for a very long time and are very much established. But I think he’s still a player who has got plenty to give, and knowing where he’s playing as well, there’s a big Hispanic influence in the game in the US, so I think he’ll bring fans to the stadiums.
“When you look at the attendances right across the board in the U.S. and MLS it’s definitely on the up. And to capture someone like Messi is a big coup for MLS and Miami as well.”