The atmosphere was intoxicating at Inter Miami CF’s Lionel Messi “Unveiling.”
Through Sunday’s torrential downpour, and musical performances that turned Ft. Lauderdale’s DRV PNK Stadium into a nightclub, Messi was welcomed to the United States in a spectacle only South Florida could put on.
The “Unveiling,” set to start at 6:30 p.m., saw a two-hour rain and lightning delay that did nothing to dampen the mood of those in attendance. Surrounding the stadium, crowds were singing, dancing and screaming the iconic “Messi” chant through the rain, all the way up until it was safe for fans to head to their seats. Around 7:30 p.m., the party moved inside the facility.
“Four years ago, David, my brother and I dreamed of bringing the world’s best players to Inter Miami. This is a city that’s built on dreams, hard work and sacrifice,” Jorge Mas said. “This is our moment to change the football landscape in this country. We promised this city that we would dream that we would sign the best players in the world and the best player in the world, and tonight that dream comes true.”
The sporting world was fixated on South Florida in a way it hasn’t been since around this time 13 years ago when Lebron James made his decision to join the Miami Heat. The likes of Anuel AA, Ozuna, Camilo, Sergio Aguero, and even Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, were in attendance. Many others sent their welcome messages to Messi in a stadium video that featured Stephen Curry, DJ Khaled and Gloria Estefan.
Indeed, this was a celebration. Not only to rejoice in the arrival of Messi but to laud the growing soccer culture in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and throughout the United States. It was also the realization of a dream that club owners David Beckham, Jorge and Jose Mas set out to accomplish when they launched Inter Miami in 2018.
Yet, not a single one of those names got the crowd to erupt in the way that the sheer mention of Messi did. It was game-winning goal-like cheers when he finally took the stage to promise the Inter Miami fan base that they are getting the same Messi they have always known.
“I’m coming with the same hunger to compete, to win and to help the club to continue to grow,” said Messi. “I’m very happy to have chosen to bring my family to this city, to have chosen this project and I have no doubts that we’re going to experience some beautiful things.”
And just like that, he returned to spectator status at his own unveiling, when Camilo and Ozuna took the stage to perform as his children played in the grass. Staying true to the Messi that has never been an over-the-top personality, he simply took it all in.
That cameo was still a momentous occasion for everyone involved from Messi himself to Major League Soccer.
“We are overjoyed that the greatest player in the world chose Inter Miami CF and Major League Soccer, and his decision is a testament to the momentum and energy behind our league and our sport in North America,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “We have no doubt that Lionel will show the world that MLS can be a League of Choice for the best players in the game. We look forward to seeing his debut for Inter Miami in our Leagues Cup tournament later this month.”
The man this all started with in 2007, David Beckham, welcomed Messi and another new signee, Sergio Busquets, as well as their families, in Spanish to the crowd’s delight. Beckham also praised the former Barcelona star for sharing his commitment to the sport in this country.
“I dreamt of bringing the greatest players in the world to this amazing city,” Beckham said. “Players who shared the ambition I had when I joined LA Galaxy to help grow football in the USA and to build a legacy for the next generation in this sport that we love so much.”
Once the families all took the stage, the speech and fireworks display that followed would be the last time fans would see Messi on the pitch until he debuts. For now, that is tentatively on pace for Friday, in the Leagues Cup, against Cruz Azul in Ft. Lauderdale.
Though not an MLS game, that match could see an atmosphere even greater than what DRV PNK Stadium saw Sunday. That’s when South Florida and the world will finally be able to see Messi — the player — as an Inter Miami star.
“I couldn’t be prouder that a player of Leo’s caliber is joining our club, but I am also delighted to welcome a good friend, an amazing person and his beautiful family to join our Inter Miami community,” Beckham said. “The next phase of our adventure starts here, and I can’t wait to see Leo take to the pitch.”