After the end of his adventure at PSG, the world champion, 35, had the choice between three destinations: a return to the fold in Barcelona, his training club, the appeal of Saudi Arabia's petrodollars, which have already seduced Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, or Major League Soccer, on the other side of the Atlantic.
"I decided that I was going to Miami, I didn't have (an agreement) 100% concluded or maybe there are still things to do, but we decided to continue our path there," the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner told Spanish newspapers Diario Sport and Mundo Deportivo on Wednesday.
It is finally under the Miami sun that the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner will undoubtedly write the last pages of his immense career in a franchise owned by David Beckham and American billionaires Jorge and Jose Mas. The choice of Messi, the result of long negotiations conducted in particular on his behalf by his father Jorge, who manages his interests, is rather a surprise as the Argentine seemed close to committing to a Saudi club.
To lure him into its nets, the kingdom was ready for all the madness, a salary of 400 million euros per season having been advanced by several media. Senior Al-Hilal officials even made the trip to Paris on Sunday to try to conclude the deal, AFP learned from sources close to the talks.
In early May, a Saudi source close to the negotiations told AFP that the transfer was "a done deal".
Argentina's Lionel Messi with PSG against Lille in Ligue 1 on February 19, 2023 at the Parc des Princes in Paris © Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP/Archives
But Messi's ultimate desire was above all to find his beloved Barca, which he had to leave death in the soul in 2021 to join PSG, the Catalan club being unable to keep him for financial reasons.
These are the same reasons that derailed "Operation Return" even as Jorge Messi assured Monday that this option was preferred by his son. But the management of the Blaugrana formation had to wait for the Spanish League to validate its plan of economic viability before being able to consider the recruitment of the "Pulga". Enough to cool the ardour of the Messi clan.
The track of Inter Miami has logically arrived at the top of the pile despite Messi's desire to remain in a high-level championship with a view to the Copa America in 2024.
To complete the transfer, the East Coast club benefited from the revenue generated by the agreement reached in the spring between MLS and Apple, which offers on its Apple TV+ service a subscription to follow the American championship, the MLS Season Pass.
This agreement was signed for $2.5 billion over ten years. On Tuesday, Apple TV+ announced the upcoming broadcast of a four-part documentary series, retracing the five World Cups played by Messi.
"The League wanted to be very creative. Everything is on the table," said a source in MLS, whose offer includes contributions from Apple and Adidas, its two largest business partners.
Adidas, a lifetime sponsor of Messi as well as MLS since its creation in 1996, would propose an agreement based on a sharing of the expected benefits of an involvement of the Argentine in MLS.
Argentina's Lionel Messi with PSG against Lille at the Parc des Princes on February 19, 2023 in Paris © Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP/Archives
Messi's contract would also have an option to buy shares in an MLS franchise at the end of his North American league career. It is this process that had benefited Beckham, also passed by the PSG, to acquire Inter Miami after the end of his contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
For MLS, which has now focused its development on strengthening young people and no longer old glories as in its early days, the arrival of Messi is an incomparable advertisement.
"I think of him as someone who crosses so many barriers that he can be more important than any athlete in any sport that has ever played here in the United States," MLS boss Don Garber said.
The presence of Messi, who already has a residence in Miami, would also be a plus evident in the promotion of the 2026 World Cup, co-organized with Canada and Mexico.
© 2023 AFP