Lionel Messi chooses Inter Miami, MLS over Barca and Saudi Arabia
In a monumental move that could alter the course of Major League Soccer, Lionel Messi has decided to sign with Inter Miami, according to multiple reports on Wednesday.
Neither Messi nor Miami has announced a decision or details of their agreement, but after two days of momentum, and after a years-long pursuit, MLS and Miami appear to have won a three-horse race to sign the world’s greatest player.
The deal likely and reportedly includes commercial contracts with Apple and Adidas, two key MLS partners. It also could give Messi an option to purchase a minority stake in Inter Miami. And it will surely boost the profile of soccer in the United States.
Messi, whose contract with Paris Saint-Germain officially expires at the end of June, could debut for Miami in either July or August — and would have the unenviable task of lifting a last-place, frequently dysfunctional franchise to the playoffs.
Messi, for two decades, had been a one-club player at the pinnacle of the sport. He dazzled at Barcelona, and became synonymous with Barca’s 21st-century image and success, which included four Champions League crowns and 10 La Liga titles. He left, regrettably and unwillingly, in 2021 amid a financial crisis at the Spanish club. He went to PSG, but both sides decided this spring to end that marriage of convenience after two underwhelming seasons.
So Messi became a soon-to-be free agent, and seemingly had three options: A lucrative offer from Saudi Arabia (some $400 million per year), a creative-but-less-lucrative offer from Inter Miami, and a non-existent offer from Barcelona.
Widespread reports indicated that, in a perfect world, he would have chosen the latter. Jorge Messi, his father and agent, said Monday that “Leo wants to return to Barca.” But the club’s ongoing financial problems, coupled with spending restrictions imposed by La Liga, impeded a reunion.
Barca, according to reports, never actually extended a firm proposal with guarantees to Messi’s camp, because it couldn’t. Countless officials in Spain had talked up the possibility that Barca could sell several players to make room for Messi underneath spending caps; but the club was essentially asking Messi to wait until later in the summer for an option that may or may not have materialized. Messi’s camp reportedly informed the club this week that he would not be returning.
So it was Miami, where Messi owns property and frequently vacations, vs. Saudi Arabia, whose government has been paying him millions of dollars to promote tourism in the Gulf kingdom. He is still close to the top of his game, having just won a cathartic World Cup, but other lucrative offers from Europe never materialized.
For months, Barcelona made all the noise. Saudi Arabian authorities, meanwhile, readied for his arrival and made sure the media knew all about their readiness. But Inter Miami and MLS officials, led by Inter majority owners Jorge and Jose Mas, operated strategically and in silence. They reportedly presented a final proposal to Messi’s camp last week, but never said a peep. And this week, behind the scenes, they reportedly jumped to the front of the line.
Messi was seemingly wooed by the South Florida lifestyle, and by glamorous Miami, which boasts a thriving Argentine community and, soon, an Argentine national soccer training center. He was also attracted to the American market. There was Apple, which recently announced a Messi documentary; and other opportunities in Silicon Valley, where, in 2022, Messi and his family helped launched a holding company for investments at the intersection of soccer and technology.
All of which were reasons that Messi had previously said he’d like to play in the U.S. someday. That day is now near.
His move to the U.S. will likely bring an end to his European adventure, and to his dominance of elite club soccer. MLS, for all its growth, sits outside the sport’s Euro-centric spotlight, and well below Spain or France in any ranking of the world’s top domestic competitions.
Inter Miami, meanwhile, currently sits in last place in MLS’ Eastern Conference, with an interim coach after last week’s sacking of Phil Neville. (There have been reports linking Gerardo “Tata” Martino, Messi’s former Argentina national team coach, with the vacancy.)
The stateside adventure, though, should be less taxing than the European club circuit, and could allow Messi to prolong his illustrious career. He is expected to lead Argentina into the 2024 Copa America, which will be played in the U.S. He could still take aim at the 2026 World Cup, which will also be co-hosted by the U.S.