Europe 1 with AFP / Photo credit: Alain JOCARD / AFP 22:11 p.m., June 07, 2023

After Pelé, Franz Beckenbaueur, David Beckham or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it is now Lionel Messi who has decided to join the MLS, the American football championship. Here is a panorama of these stars that American football has already managed to attract.

Argentina's Lionel Messi, who has decided to join Inter Miami, is the latest in a long line of great players who have chosen the North American Championship (MLS) to taste a golden pre-retirement. A new big blow for the American football championship that had already managed to bring in other big names before like Franz Beckenbaueur, Pelé, or even more recently Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

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The pioneers

Pelé, the "Kaiser" Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Eusebio, Johan Cruijff or Gerd Müller were among the first stars to have cleared the field in a country with a non-existent football culture by joining the North American Soccer League (NASL), created in 1968 and ancestor of the current MLS. It was in 1975 that King Pelé arrived in New York to wear the Cosmos jersey for two seasons.

The Brazilian shines the spotlight on this exotic championship that he won in 1977, scoring 66 goals in 107 matches before retiring definitively after a match played at Giants Stadium in New York between the Cosmos and Santos, his training club, in front of 75,000 spectators.

The star

By signing in 2007 for the Los Angeles Galaxy from Real Madrid, David Beckham will totally revive the attraction for "soccer" in the United States. MLS succeeded the NASL in 1996 in the wake of a perfectly successful World Cup on American soil but attracts only stars at the end of the cycle like Carlos Valderrama.

The "Spice Boy" brings a good touch of glamour to a hitherto confidential championship. In California, the Englishman won two titles and became THE face of MLS, a statue even being erected in his effigy in front of the Galaxy stadium.

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The Frenchy

After Beckham, it is Thierry Henry who acts as the head of the gondola for the MLS. The world and European champion opted for the New York Red Bulls after the fiasco of Les Bleus at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, as before him his former teammate in selection Youri Djorkaeff (2005-2006).

From a sporting point of view, the bet is mixed since "Titi" will never know the joys of a trophy in the United States in four years of presence. Another Frenchman, also winner of a World Cup, in 2018 in Russia, will follow in his footsteps since Blaise Matuidi ended his career in MLS, at Inter Miami, in 2022.

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The acrobat

Zlatan Ibrahimovic followed in Beckham's footsteps and signed with the LA Galaxy in 2018 at the age of 36, succeeding Steven Gerrard (2015-2016) as the club's star. As everywhere he went, the Swede leaves no one indifferent by his personality, his "punchlines" and his spectacular goals. But he left after two years, returning to Europe, to AC Milan, in 2020.


To compete with the Red Bulls, a new franchise was founded in New York that debuted in MLS in 2015. New York City FC, created by the owners of Manchester City, is counting on two of the most brilliant European technicians, the Italian Andrea Pirlo, world champion in 2006, and the Spaniard David Villa, winner of the World Cup (2010) and Euro (2008), reinforced by the English midfielder Frank Lampard. The Frenchman Patrick Vieira even became the coach in 2016 but left after two seasons.

Another artist attracted to MLS is Brazilian Kaka. The 2002 world champion ended his career there after three seasons at Orlando City (2014-2017). As for the Ivorian Didier Drogba, former gunner of Chelsea, he landed at the Montreal Impact in 2015 before evolving in the second division with Phoenix.

The faithful

For Wayne Rooney, America has become a second home. The child of Liverpool, trained at Everton before shining at Manchester United (2004-2017), played as a player, at DC United (2018-2020), before becoming the coach of the Washington franchise since 2022 after a trip to Derby County (2019-2022) as player-coach.