Lionel Messi to join MLS side Inter Miami after leaving PSG

Messi’s move to the US comes as a surprise after he was widely tipped to be joining Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal.

The Argentinian football great Lionel Messi has said he will sign for Major League Soccer (MLS) club Inter Miami after leaving French champions Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), snubbing a lucrative offer in Saudi Arabia.

“I made the decision that I’m going to go to Miami. I still haven’t closed it 100 percent,” Messi told  Mundo Deportivo and Sport newspapers. “I’m still missing a few things, but we decided to go ahead.”

Inter Miami also teased the player’s arrival in a social media video featuring various rumours about the superstar’s next destination. The clip ends with Messi’s name stylised in the club’s colours.

The MLS welcomed Messi’s looming move to the league.

“We are pleased that Lionel Messi has stated that he intends to join Inter Miami and [MLS] this summer. Although work remains to finalise a formal agreement, we look forward to welcoming one of the greatest players of all time to our league,” the MLS said in a statement.

A World Cup winner and serial champion considered by many as the greatest ever to play the game, Messi, 35, is one of the best-known athletes in the world.

He will arrive in a league that does not enjoy the same level of popularity or intensity as European football, but one that has been home to many stars in recent years, including David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lorenzo Insigne.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez hailed Messi’s likely move, calling it “enormous” on Wednesday.

“We literally beat his longtime home team and an incredible financial package from one of the wealthiest countries because Miami is the most exciting and dynamic city in the world,” he wrote on Twitter.

The move to the United States will shock many in the game because Messi was widely predicted to join the increasingly ambitious Saudi Premier League to play alongside stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

Inter Miami, co-owned by Beckham and now has an Argentinian interim coach in Javier Morales, has been struggling this season. They currently sit bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Signing the seven-time World Player of the Year will be a major boost for the club and US football more broadly. Should the deal with Miami go through, it would be the first time Messi has played league football outside Europe.

Barcelona said in a statement on Wednesday that it presented Messi with a proposal to rejoin the team. But it added that club president Joan Laporta “understood and respected Messi’s decision to want to compete in a league with fewer demands, further away from the spotlight and the pressure he has been subject to in recent years”.

Earlier on Wednesday, Spanish football writer and Messi biographer Guillem Balague wrote in a BBC report that the 2022 World Cup winner would reject an offer from Saudi side Al Hilal and is unable to rejoin his former club Barcelona due to financial fair-play limitations.

“But Messi was ultimately tempted to Major League Soccer side Inter Miami for a variety of reasons, including lifestyle and a deal with big brands that extends beyond football,” Balague wrote, adding that Messi already owns a house in Miami, which he currently rents out.

Balague says the Miami deal includes collaboration from brands including Adidas and Apple.

In two seasons at PSG, Messi won two French leagues and the French Champions trophy. He scored 32 goals and made 35 assists in all competitions.

Messi scored in a 1-1 draw at Strasbourg a week ago to help PSG clinch a record-extending 11th French league title. By grabbing a 496th career league goal, the Argentinian also broke Ronaldo’s scoring record for Europe’s top five leagues.

His two-year contract with PSG ended in early June and was not renewed as relations soured between Messi and the club.

PSG fans have jeered Messi in the past couple of months as his form dipped after he helped Argentina win the World Cup.

Relations further deteriorated in May when PSG suspended Messi after he made an unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia. Messi has a commercial contract with Saudi Arabia to promote tourism.

He had made an emotional farewell to Barcelona in 2021 after the club’s dire finances meant they could no longer afford to keep him.

Messi won 10 La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and seven Spanish Cups during his 21 years at Barcelona and is the Catalan club’s record scorer with 672 goals.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies