Lionel Messi makes it official and signs with Inter Miami: NPR

Artist Maximiliano Bagnasco paints a mural of Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi on July 10 in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami.

Lynne Sladky/AP

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Lynne Sladky/AP

Artist Maximiliano Bagnasco paints a mural of Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi on July 10 in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami.

Lynne Sladky/AP

Lionel Messi has finalized his deal to join Major League Soccer, and after years of planning and pursuit, Inter Miami has become a global icon.

Messi’s contract became official on Saturday, a little more than five weeks after he declared he would join Inter Miami. The team will present him on Sunday night at their stadium in Fort Lauderdale, and the first home game of the Messi era could be as early as Friday in a League Cup match against Cruz Azul.

A formal press conference is scheduled for Monday and his first training session with his new club is expected on Tuesday. The club previously announced that Messi’s deal will run for 2 1/2 seasons and will pay him between $50 million and $60 million annually — putting the total contract value between $125 million and $150 million in cash alone.

“BIENVENIDO 10,” the team wrote Saturday on Twitter.

Welcome, Messi.

“We are beyond pleased that the best 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,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a declaration. . “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.”

It is in many ways an unusual marriage. Messi – still perhaps the game’s biggest star – signs with a team that entered Saturday in last place in MLS’s Eastern Conference standings. It is a club in just its fourth season playing in a temporary home that will only hold around 22,000 people when some hasty renovations such as addition of extra grandstand seats is being completed.

It does not mean anything. Royal footballers now play for Inter Miami.

Messi arrived in South Florida on Tuesday after vacation, then started the physical and paperwork process on Wednesday, and the deal was finalized on Saturday afternoon. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner – the trophy given annually to the world’s best player – moves to Miami after two years with Paris Saint-Germain.

“I am very excited to start this next step in my career with Inter Miami and in the United States,” Messi said in a statement. “This is a great opportunity and together we will continue to build this beautiful project. The idea is to work together to achieve the goals we have set and I am very eager to start helping here in my new home .”

It was widely known that Messi wanted to leave PSG. The mystery was where he was going. Some believed Messi would eventually opt to play for Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia, following long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo to a kingdom where some clubs are now funded by its sovereign wealth fund. Returning to Barcelona, ​​a story where he spent most of his career, was another option.

In the end, Miami won. An idea that co-owner David Beckham began floating publicly in 2021 — two years before, apparently, the team actually started thinking about how to pull it off — has now become a reality.

“After winning the World Cup and not being able to return to Barcelona, ​​it was my turn to go to the league in the United States to live football in a different way,” Messi said in June when he announced his decision.

He led Argentina to the World Cup title last December. Messi has more than 800 goals in his career for club and country, making him one of the greatest goalscorers in the history of the sport. He scored twice in last year’s World Cup final against France, a match that ended 3-3, with Argentina winning 4-2 on penalties.

A four-time Champions League winner, his 129 goals in the top club competition are second only to Ronaldo’s 140. Messi has won 10 La Liga titles and two Ligue 1 championships, seven Copa del Reys and three Club World Cups, plus one Copa América and Olympic gold medal for Argentina.

“Ten years ago, when I started my journey to build a new team in Miami, I said that I dreamed of bringing the best players in the world to this great city,” Beckham said. “Players who shared the ambition I had when I joined the LA Galaxy to help grow soccer in the United States and build a legacy for the next generation in the sport we love so much.

“Today that dream came true.”

The club had an away game on Saturday in St. Louis, but when word got out that Messi might have been at the team’s facility that morning, a few hundred fans showed up just hoping for a glimpse, undeterred even by a late-morning thunderstorm. Many wore Messi jerseys – some the light blue ones from Argentina, some the pink and black ones from Inter Miami. Some carried flags; one carried a sign mostly in Spanish, but the words “Messi” and “GOAT” made the message clear.

It’s just part of a welcome party that has only just begun.

Messi was spotted at a Publix supermarket near Fort Lauderdale — the grocery chain is a sponsor of Inter Miami — with his family earlier this week, and the cart had a few items picked out by the kids: Froot Loops, Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms. The scene went viral when he hit the checkout lane.

A serial goalscorer is obviously also a cereal fan.

And now it’s time for the football to start. Inter Miami plans to present Messi on Sunday evening at an event the club is calling “The Unveil”. Shakira is rumored to be in attendance and tickets are long gone for the show that has been anticipated for weeks.

Hopes for the franchise are now officially sky high. Inter Miami has never contended for a title; Messi could change everything in a flash for a team that has won just 34% of its games in MLS play.

“Lionel Messi is an incomparable talent,” Inter Miami sporting director Chris Henderson said. “What he brings on and off the pitch will lift everyone around him and we are delighted to have him at Inter Miami.”

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