Lionel Messi, the player who has captivated and to a large extent dominated global soccer for a generation, declared on Wednesday that the next stop in his glittering career would be the United States.
In an interview with two Spanish sports news outlets, Messi confirmed that he planned to sign a contract with Inter Miami, the M.L.S. team part-owned by David Beckham.
“I made the decision that I am going to go to Miami,” Messi told Sport and Mundo Deportivo. “I still haven’t closed it 100 percent. I’m missing some things, but we decided to continue the path.”
M.L.S. made no official comment on Messi’s announcement. Earlier in the day, a person with knowledge of the talks with Messi — speaking anonymously to discuss private negotiations — had cautioned that while M.L.S. and its partners were hopeful an agreement would be reached, the complexity of the proposal on the table, involving payments from a variety of sources, made a quick agreement extremely unlikely.
Should the deal be finalized, Messi’s signing would be the biggest coup for M.L.S. since it lured Beckham in 2007. That deal shifted perceptions of the league’s quality, and its ambitions, around the world; capturing Messi would, if anything, deliver even more attention to the league in the run-up to the 2026 World Cup.
Messi admitted, in his interview, that Miami had — perhaps — not been his first choice of destination as his contract at his most recent team, Paris St.-Germain, ran down.
Speaking to two outlets that dedicate much of their coverage to the club where he became the finest player of his generation, Barcelona, he made plain that, in an ideal world, he would have returned to Catalonia. He “obviously really wanted to return,” he said, and had discussed the idea with both Xavi Hernández, the club’s manager, and Joan Laporta, its president.
Ultimately, though, Barcelona’s financial turmoil forced his hand. “I heard they had to sell players or lower salaries and the truth is that I did not want to go through that,” he said, suggesting that he did not want to be held responsible for forcing Barcelona to adjust its squad simply to accommodate him.
“I wanted to make my own decision, thinking about myself and my family,” he said, describing a move away from Europe entirely as a chance to “look for something else, and find a little peace of mind.” After 20 years as one of — if not the — finest players on the planet, and seven months after leading Argentina to the World Cup, the one trophy that had previously eluded him, he said that he wanted to “get out of focus a bit, think about my family.”
That led him to reject the chance to stay in Paris. He never truly settled into an attack featuring his fellow superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, and his expected exit from P.S.G. was finally confirmed by the club on Saturday, hours before the team’s final game of the season.
“I would like to thank the club, the city of Paris and its people for these two years,” he said in a statement released by the club hours before he played, and lost, his final match with P.S.G. “I wish you all the best for the future.”
The club reciprocated by sending its “warmest regards” and thanking Messi for his service, but P.S.G.’s fans were less sentimental: They booed Messi’s name in warm-ups, did the same during the game and continued to show their displeasure during a celebration for the club’s latest French championship that followed.
Because he was out of contract, Messi’s options were by then the talk of soccer. Would he find a way to return to the club that had made him, Barcelona? Would he take his game, and his family, to a new adventure in the United States? Or would his salary demands so limit his options that he would have little choice but to accept the almost unfathomable offer he received from the Saudi club Al Hilal?
Saudi Arabia’s pitch was perhaps the most transactional: It could offer Messi a salary that no other suitor could match, and he already had a relationship with the kingdom through a multimillion-dollar deal in which Messi had become a spokesman for the Saudi Tourism Authority.
Barcelona offered familiarity and a return to the club and city he never wanted to leave. Messi departed Catalonia for Paris St.-Germain in 2021 only when Barcelona found itself caught in a financial vise and unable, under the rules of the Spanish league, to sign him to a new contract. The lure of returning as a hero to a club that reveres him was strong.
M.L.S., as it has with previous stars, was forced to get creative. It, too, offered Messi a bit of comfort: He owns at least one home in Miami, and basing himself there — and closer to Argentina — will make it easier for him to cultivate rich, new sponsorship opportunities in a huge commercial market. But a base in the United States also would have appealed for competitive reasons, potentially making it easier for Messi as he prepares to help Argentina defend its World Cup title in 2026, when the tournament will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
To make the numbers work, Inter Miami owners, which include Beckham, and Messi’s representatives cobbled together a layered offer: a roster spot free from the limits of M.L.S. salary rules; an ownership stake in Inter Miami once his playing careers ends; and revenue-sharing agreements with Apple and Adidas, two companies with which Messi has long and multimillion-dollar relationships.
Those deals would be linked to increased sales for Adidas, which had previously signed Messi to a lifetime sponsorship deal, and to increased subscription sales for the Apple TV+ streaming service. Apple, which this year acquired the rights to broadcast M.L.S. games on the service, on Tuesday announced that it also would produce a multipart documentary series about Messi.
Any first look at Messi on the streaming platform in an M.L.S. game, however, will have to wait until the contracts are signed, and until the league reaches its midseason transfer deadline on July 5.
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