Lionel Messi has reportedly decided to sign with Inter Miami, a monumental move that could alter the course of Major League Soccer and boost the profile of the sport in the United States.
The compensation details have yet to be released, but Miguel Delaney of the Independent reported that a "personal deal with Apple," which owns the broadcast rights for MLS games, was "part of the attraction." Apple would reportedly produce a documentary about Messi's life.
Messi, for two decades, had been a one-club player. He dazzled at Barcelona, and became synonymous with its 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 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 returned to Barca. 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.
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.
Messi had said he'd like to play in the United States someday, and at various stages over the past 12 months, some in Miami grew confident that the day would arrive this summer. MLS commissioner Don Garber mentioned in March that the league could go "outside the box" to structure a deal that wooed Messi to South Florida. There was talk of ownership stakes and help from Apple or Adidas.
Then there was the Saudi offer, and the largest annual salary in sports history — plus an opportunity to renew a legendary rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo, who signed with Al Hilal's crosstown rival Al Nassr this past winter.
But Messi chose MLS and Miami.
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's eastern conference, with an interim coach after last week's sacking of Phil Neville.
The stateside adventure, though, should be less taxing, 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.