Lionel Messi, the Argentine soccer superstar entering the twilight of an extraordinary career punctuated by a World Cup championship last winter, plans to sign with Inter Miami in Major League Soccer (MLS).
Messi, a seven-time world player of the year and one of the greatest talents in soccer history, told Mundo Deportivo in Spain on Wednesday: “I made the decision that I am going to go to Miami. I still haven’t closed [the contract] 100 percent. I’m missing some things, but we decided to continue [on] the path.”
MLS issued a statement, saying: “We are pleased that Lionel Messi has stated that he intends to join Inter Miami and Major League Soccer this summer. Although work remains to finalize a formal agreement, we look forward to welcoming one of the greatest players of all-time to our League.”
Inter Miami owner Jorge Mas tweeted an uncaptioned photo of Messi’s No. 10 jersey in shadows, and the team tweeted a video hyping Messi’s imminent arrival.
In the interview, Messi said playing and living in the United States would allow him to enjoy “day-to-day much more but with the same responsibility of wanting to win and always doing things well but with more peace of mind.” Barring contract complications, Messi could formally join Miami as early as July 5, when the MLS transfer window opens, and debut three days later against D.C. United in Washington.
“He’s obviously a generational talent and someone that has almost transcended the sport,” Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman said from U.S. national team training camp. “I’m sure guys will be trying to prove every single time that he’s on the ball that they can win it off him or intercept a pass and have that story to tell their kids because that’s the kind of player he is.”
Messi, who will turn 36 this month, spurned a reported multibillion-dollar contract offer from Saudi club Al-Hilal, which is owned by the Public Investment Fund, the group that rocked the golf world with LIV Golf. He also considered returning to FC Barcelona, the Spanish power with which he spent his entire career before moving to Paris Saint-Germain in 2021.
Messi’s contract with PSG expires this month, and the club announced last week that he would not return. His two-season stint with PSG failed to produce an UEFA Champions League trophy despite him teaming with superstars Kylian Mbappé and Neymar.
Messi’s 806 goals in all competitions are second in soccer history, 31 behind rival Cristiano Ronaldo and 44 more than Pelé, the Brazilian legend who died this past winter. In December, Messi ended years of frustration with the Argentine national team by finally hoisting the sport’s greatest prize, the World Cup trophy, after a shootout victory over France in Qatar.
It is unclear how much Miami will pay Messi, but the package is expected to include potential ownership stakes when he retires and other intangibles tied to revenue generated by his presence.
Apple TV Plus, which is in the first year of owning MLS’s broadcast rights, and Adidas, a longtime league sponsor, also will help facilitate Messi’s signing, people familiar with the talks said.
Messi’s on-field earnings were $65 million, plus another $65 million in endorsements and other income, Forbes said. Ronaldo ($136 million) jumped to the Saudi league in January.
Top earners in MLS this year will make between $5 million and $8.15 million. The average salary is $473,292. Teams must comply with a salary cap, but exceptions are made for three high-end players per side. Messi’s interest in MLS clearly goes beyond the money. He owns a home in Miami and seems drawn by the lifestyle for his wife and three sons.
“If it had been a matter of money,” he told Mundo Deportivo, “I’d have gone to [Saudi] Arabia or elsewhere.”
He becomes the latest in a string of high-profile players to join MLS from European circles late in their career, following David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy), Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls) and Wayne Rooney (D.C.), among others.
MLS is banking on Messi having an even greater impact than Beckham did from 2007 to 2012. Now a part-owner of Inter Miami, the Englishman helped broker the deal with Messi.
In its 28th season, MLS has swelled to 29 teams but is still fighting for attention in a crowded sports market while also aiming to sway soccer fans in the United States who prefer watching European and Mexican leagues.
In its fourth season, Inter Miami has the worst record in the Eastern Conference (5-11-0) and has lost five straight. Last week it fired coach Phil Neville. An Argentine, Javier Morales, was named interim coach. While it awaits a new stadium in Miami, the team continues to play at an 18,000-seat venue in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. With Messi aboard, the organization could end up moving matches to a larger stadium in South Florida.
“It’s a big day for MLS,” Zimmerman said. “It kind of is reminiscent of Beckham when he came originally. You saw how the league has changed in the 15 years since he arrived, and hopefully 15 years from now we’re seeing all the growth from this addition. It will be great for the sport in this country, especially ahead of the 2026 World Cup,” which will be staged in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Source: Washington Post