Lionel Messi, the Argentine football star and reigning World Cup champion, said he likely will join the Major League Soccer club Inter Miami, giving the US league a monumental boost at a time of increased global competition for the best talent in the sport.
Messi, 35, has played his entire club career in Europe, with nearly 20 years at FC Barcelona and his most recent stint at Paris Saint-Germain. Despite toying in recent weeks with the idea of returning to the Spanish club, he told Spanish media outlet Mundo Deportivo on Tuesday: “I made the decision I am going to Miami. I haven’t closed things 100 per cent yet but . . . we decided to continue on that road.”
Inter Miami appeared to confirm Messi would join the team, posting a video to its Twitter account showing reports of his rumoured signing and concluding with a mock-up of the team logo and his name. A spokeswoman for Inter Miami did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
With a potential move to Miami, Messi would give the fast-growing MLS league its biggest star power in a generation and give his fans in the Americas a regular opportunity to watch him play closer to his home timezone.
Other major European talents, including Thierry Henry, Andrea Pirlo and Zlatan Ibrahimović, have all played for spells in MLS at the waning ends of their careers.
At the same time, Messi’s relocation to the US comes as other top talent — including rival Cristiano Ronaldo — have flocked to play in Saudi Arabia, whose Public Investment Fund this week consolidated management of some top clubs amid a wider investment in sport.
Financial and athletic interest in football in North America has been stoked by the next men’s World Cup, which will be hosted across the continent in 2026. It has also been underscored by rising valuations in MLS teams and expansion franchises. Last month, UK billionaire mogul Mohamed Mansour led a $500mn purchase of a newly created MLS franchise, San Diego FC, while the league began its landmark 10-year, $2.5bn broadcasting contract with Apple this season.
In a statement on Wednesday, MLS said that “although work remains to finalise a formal agreement, we look forward to welcoming one of the greatest soccer players of all time to our League”.
Inter Miami is co-owned by retired England great David Beckham and brothers Jorge and Jose Mas. Beckham became one of the first megawatt stars to defect from European leagues and join MLS when he opted to sign a five-year contract with the LA Galaxy in 2007.