Lionel Messi, among the greatest soccer players ever, has agreed to a contract with Inter Miami CF, according to multiple reports.
After months of speculation and negotiation, Miami’s Major League Soccer franchise won the bidding war for Messi, outlasting Al Hilal, a Saudi Arabian club, and one of his former clubs, FC Barcelona.
“I have made the decision that I am going to Miami. I still don’t have it agreed upon 100% and a few things are needed, but well, we decided to continue my path there,” Messi said, according to ESPN. “After winning the World Cup and not being able to return to Barcelona, it was my turn to go to the league of the United States to live football in another way and to enjoy the day to day more. Obviously, with the same responsibility and desire to play well and do things well as always. But in a calmer way.”
Messi, 35, had been linked to Inter Miami for months, but talks began to accelerate as the star came closer to the end of his contract with Paris Saint-Germain. That deal expires at the end of the month, and with Inter struggling through the MLS regular season, timing became a critical factor in the process.
Inter Miami has yet to release the contract details, or even make an official announcement, but Messi appears headed to DRV PNK Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale soon enough.
Messi and Paris Saint-Germain had a falling out in recent months, a period highlighted by Messi taking an unapproved trip to Saudi Arabia to scout out other options. PSG suspended him for two weeks after that trip, marking the beginning of the end of the club’s Messi era.
Messi joins an iconic group of stars that have left Europe for greener pastures in MLS. Notables like Garreth Bale (LAFC), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy), and Wayne Rooney (DC United) have shipped off to America to end their illustrious careers, and were still able to produce at a high level. But while those signings were marquee and memorable, it’s likely that Messi’s will go down as the most important in MLS history.
David Beckham, a partial owner of Inter Miami CF, made a similar decision in 2007, leaving Real Madrid to play for the LA Galaxy. In the deal, Beckham negotiated a clause to receive an expansion franchise after his playing days ended. That franchise became Inter Miami CF.
Among the Messi reports this week, there were headlines illustrating he’ll be able to own part of the franchise. Included in that deal, as well, is a part of the MLS agreements with Apple and Adidas, opening the door for entrepreneurship and a larger Messi empire when he eventually retires.
Messi owns a house in Miami and frequently vacations here with his family, making the connections to South Florida even greater. What’s more, he will most likely participate in the 2024 Copa America Tournament and the 2026 World Cup, both of which will be in the United States. So, the move to MLS keeps him close to additional global exposure, and it’s possible those two world stages might be his final competitions.
Inter Miami CF, founded in 2018, has largely been a below-average MLS club since beginning play in 2020. The club has made the MLS Playoffs once in three seasons, and it was quickly eliminated last year in the first round.
Inter hasn’t been short on talent. Stars such as striker Gonzalo Higuain and midfielder Víctor Ulloa have donned Miami jerseys, and while both produced statistically in their time here, team success didn’t follow.
This year has been more of the same. Miami entered the week in last place in the 15-team Eastern Conference, and fired coach Phil Neville last week. Neville, who finished his tenure with a 35-15-42 record, was replaced, on an interim basis, by Javi Morales.
“We are and always have been an ambitious club. Sometimes, the path to growth involves difficult decisions and today is one of those moments,” Inter Miami CF managing owner Jorge Mas said in a statement last week. “We are grateful to Phil for the dedication and tenacity he brought to Inter Miami. His positive contributions are embedded in our team culture and he represented our club with class and dignity.”
As the Messi reports swirled around the team, Inter lost to DC United, 2-1, last week, in Morales’ debut.
“There are a lot of positives for us, and it starts with how we compete,” Morales said at Monday’s practice, following the loss. “We competed for 90 minutes. … I think we deserved a little bit better just for the effort that we put in on the field. But now, it’s important for us to have that (same) attitude and commitment.”
Having a superstar who could shift the landscape of Inter’s future, both short- and long-term, will certainly help Morales’ mission.
That said, Messi’s signing opens the door for endless possibilities for the next Inter coach, if Morales doesn’t get the full-time job. He could even attract additional players to MLS, most noticeably Sergio Busquets, a former teammate who left Barcelona after an 18-year stint. Miami has the potential to build a perennial championship-contending organization around Messi.
For now, though, Inter seems intent on letting Morales figure out the rest of the season. That said, the media circus that awaits the club with Messi’s arrival might be a lot on any coach.
“Javi has been a key member of our organization since day one,” Mas said last week, “and understands our goals.”
So, too, does Messi, it appears. And when he arrives, he will likely become the highest paid — and most impactful — player in league history.