The 40-second video opens with a hooded graffiti artist in an empty soccer stadium. He is dressed from head to toe in Adidas, which, in addition to being the sports brand that the rappers RUN-DMC sang about in the eighties, is the sponsor for Inter Miami and its shining new star. The guy sprays a black surface with the club’s signature pink and, oh, surprise, it reads “Messi.” The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner emerges from the shadows and says: “Yes, guys, see you in Miami.”
So yes, guys, it’s official: in case anyone on the face of planet soccer hadn’t heard yet, Lionel Messi, the 36-year-old Argentinian striker and recent world champion, has signed for the soccer team of a city with which his name will now be associated, right down the signature M.
With the contract signed, the player was treated to a red-carpet welcome in Fort Lauderdale, a resort town 40 kilometers north of Miami where the team’s stadium is temporarily located while the new one is being completed. Messi landed in South Florida on Tuesday after enjoying a vacation. Since then, he’s been out and about, shopping with his family at a famous supermarket chain, taking physicals and completing various paperwork.
The contract is for two-and-a-half years, for which, according to an EL PAÍS interview with Inter president Jorge Mas, he will be paid between $50 and $60 million per year. The offer also includes the promise of a stake in the club when he retires, suggesting a similar path to David Beckham who founded Inter, and who was on stage to help welcome the new addition to its ranks. Messi has also been promised a share of the profits from global broadcasting, the rights to which are held by Apple TV, as well as a share in the profits from the sale of the Adidas kit.
“I am very excited to begin this next step of my career with Inter Miami and in the United States,” the player finally said in a statement distributed by the club July 15. In it, he says he is “anxious to start helping.” And it’s not just a platitude: he is joining a team that, after a disappointing season, is at the bottom of the Eastern Conference league that contains 15 teams, though mathematically, they can still sneak into the playoffs. Coinciding with Messi’s signing, his teammates lost 3-0 to St. Louis, a serious contender for the Major League Soccer (MLS) title.
Also roped into the task of reviving Inter are the recently signed Sergio Busquets, a midfielder who played alongside Messi at Barcelona, and Gerardo Tata Martino, who coached in Spain and also the Albiceleste national team in Argentina as well as doing a season in MLS, with Atlanta United, which won the title under his tutorage.
The welcome program for Messi began on July 16 with a concert dubbed La PresentaSÍon, which featured performances by Latin music stars Camilo and Ozuna. There was also a press conference ahead of Messi’s first training session. On July 21, Messi will make his debut wearing the Inter colors against Mexican team Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup, a North American club competition.
MLS boss Don Garber welcomed Messi with a statement: “We are overjoyed that the greatest 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.” Having chosen the U.S. over a hero’s return home to Barcelona or the multi-million dollar siren calls of Saudi Arabia, Messi has raised expectations of consolidating soccer in a country where the game has still to take a firm hold, even after Pelé’s contribution in the 1970s, the 1994 World Cup, and Beckham’s arrival in Los Angeles in 2007.
Whether it will be different this time is yet to be established. It seems clear, however, that it is now or never. There are several dates marked in red on the agenda for potential success: the holding of the Copa América in the U.S. next year, the Club World Cup the following year, which has a new format with 32 participants, and the hosting of the 2026 World Cup along with Mexico and Canada.
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