The Lionel Messi sweepstakes appear over. The most coveted free agent in soccer history is set to sign with Major League Soccer's Inter Miami. The decision ends weeks of speculation about the Argentine star's future. Messi announced his move in an interview Wedensday with Mundo Deportivo and Sport.
"I made the decision that I'm going to Miami," Messi said. It is not finalized 100 percent. There are a few things left but we decided to continue down this path. If Barcelona didn't work out, I wanted to leave Europe, get out of the spotlight and think more about myself."
Ahead of the interview Jorge Mas, Inter Miami's president, seemed to confirm the signing with a tweet of a Messi jersey and then Inter Miami went ahead and tweeted it out.
The Athletic reported on Tuesday that MLS had come up with a creative pitch to sign him which included Apple offering a share of revenue generated by new subscribers to MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+, along with help from Adidas offering a profit-sharing agreement. MLS and Adidas have worked together since the league's inception in 1996, and the German brand had worked with Messi since 2006, signing a lifetime footwear deal in 2017, per The Athletic.
After the announcement, MLS formally confirmed that the deal is not quite done.
The 35-year-old superstar will officially leave PSG this month when his contract expires after two seasons with the French giants. After spending his entire career with Barcelona, he made the jump to France after his beloved team could no longer afford him under La Liga's financial rules, seeing an end to an iconic era at the club with diminutive Argentina as the face, winning every prize imaginable more than once.
Messi revealed that while he had offers from other clubs to stay in Europe, he never really considered them.
"I had offers from other European cubs but I didn't even consider them because my idea was to go to Barcelona and if it didn't work out, analyzing it, I'd leave European soccer, especially after winning the World Cup, which was what I was missing to close out my career on this side and experience the league in the United States, another way and enjoy the day-to-day but with the same responsibility of wanting to win and do the right thing, just with more tranquility."
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Messi, fresh offto likely cement his legacy as the greatest ever, now gets his wish of playing in the United States with the possibility of former Barcelona teammates joining him in South Florida.
Landing Messi would be an all-time coup for the league, likely even more impactful than the one of Inter Miami club president David Beckham, who left Real Madrid to join the Los Angeles Galaxy back in 2007.
While the level of competition is far from that of Europe, Messi gets an opportunity in a growing league with an expected clause in his contract concerning potential future club ownership, similar to that of Beckham 15 years ago.
What does this mean for Inter Miami?
Messi will be joining a team that's dead last in the Eastern Conference but they sit only six points outside of a playoff spot with plenty of games to go. That's a deficit that's certainly not insurmountable. In fact,.
The club just advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup with a 1-0 win over Birmingham Legion on Wednesday, and for Inter Miami, this means they have potentially the next Ballon d'Or winner on their team.
He was the best player at the World Cup, he just had a season of over 20 goals and 20 assists for PSG, and he has not shown any signs of slowing down. While aging stars often have to reinvent themselves, not Messi. He's still fast, he's still clinical, he's more of a leader than he has ever been and can certainly continue playing at this level for a while more.
Why Inter Miami?
This decision is far from a sporting one. If he wanted to play in a better league, he would have. He had options to go elsewhere in Europe, but as he said, he wanted to get out of the biggest and brightest spotlight a little. He's still going to get swarmed in South Florida, but he should have a tad more peace in his day-to-day life.
Miami is the spot for Argentines. Be it because it's not too far from Disney World, its beaches or any of the countless attractions, Argentines typically view Miami as we would view a trip to, say, London or Rome. It's one of those iconic places and a massively popular destination for Argentines. There are parillas (Argentina restaurants that serve grilled meats), a ton of Argentines already living there, direct flights back and forth to Argentina regularly, stores where he can get all the things he could want from his homeland and more.
He has discussed wanting to live in the United States and experience life here, and this feels like a family decision and one about future convenience.
Think about it -- the 2024 Copa America and the 2026 World Cup are going to be in the United States, the latter also seeing Canada and Mexico host a small portion of games. If Messi is already here, it limits travel, allows for more time with his family and more.
When could he debut?
Miami are also contesting the Concacaf Leagues Cup where they will be facing Mexico's Cruz Azul on July 21, a match that could be Messi's debut. His contract with PSG expires on June 30, and on July 5 the MLS transfer window opens up.
Who could join him?
There is a lot of buzz about this becoming a Messi and friends thing. Numerous former teammates of his are being linked with a movie including Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and even Luis Suarez, who is currently with Brazilian club Gremio. Another name to keep an eye on is that of Angel Di Maria, his Argentina national team teammate who also scored in the World Cup final. Of course, with MLS salary rules and designated player rules, it is easier said than done, and acquiring any of them, including Messi, will require some roster maneuvering to make it all work. I think the league will aim to be pretty flexible to make that happen.
Social media reaction to the news
Our Nico Cantor on what this means for the sport in this country:
NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is a part owner of Nashville SC.
Welcome to the MLS Messi!! See you at Nashville🔥🚀— Giannis Antetokounmpo (@Giannis_An34) June 7, 2023
Miami Dolphins' Tyreke Hill welcomes Messi
Miami Marlins already have a baseball jersey for him
MLS club FC Cincinnati having fun with it
Saudi Arabia and Barcelona miss out
In the end it was a 2.5 horse race for Messi. While Barcelona always wanted to get back in for the one that got away, ultimately the team was unable to create the financial room necessary to make a deal happen. Messi' father, Jorge met with the club this week, and while some reports suggested that La Liga had ok'd a possible deal, it never came to fruition. On Wednesday, Messi's team told Barcelona that he wouldn't be waiting around for them to try and finagle a solution. Barcelona issued a statement Wednesday afternoon.
"On Monday, June 5, Jorge Messi, the player's father and representative, informed Club President Joan Laporta of the player's decision to join Inter Miami, despite having been presented with a proposal from Barça, in consideration of the desire of both FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi for him to once again wear blaugrana. President Laporta understood and respected Messi's decision to want to compete in a league with fewer demands, further away from the spotlight and the pressure he has been subject to in recent years. Both Joan Laporta and Jorge Messi also agreed to work together to promote a proper tribute from Barça fans to honor a footballer who has been, is, and always will be beloved by Barça."
That left two teams. The entire nation state of Saudi Arabia worked hard to woo Messi, with our own James Benge reporting that high level government officials were in Paris last week trying to close the deal. And,, they believed they had persuaded Messi, so much so that they were providing jets to fly the superstar and his father from Paris and Barcelona respectively in order to make it all official. But, in the end Messi chose Miami.