The NBA has included few illustrious names in recent years, but Lionel Messi's expected arrival at Inter Miami will change the map of the game in the United States.

Messi, 35, who led Argentina to the 2022 World Cup Qatar, has been linked with a long-term move to Al Hilal after receiving a huge offer to join the Saudi Professional League, which continues to attract illustrious names after Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, or return to financially distressed Barcelona, to move to play outside the borders of Europe for the first time in more than 20 years.

Messi, whose contract with French champions Paris Saint-Germain expired, said in an interview with the Spanish newspapers "Mundo Deportivo" and "Sport" that he made the decision to move to Inter Miami amid speculation that he will acquire a share of the club's ownership and part of the revenue from the Apple platform and increase the value of the sponsorship contract with the sportswear company Adidas.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner and Saudi tourism ambassador said: "If it was about money, I would go to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else where they offered me a lot of money."

Messi is sure to raise the popularity of the MLS to a huge degree after finishing bottom among the other four North American leagues in terms of follow-up.

Messi in the footsteps of Beckham

He will follow a similar path for co-owner David Beckham, who surprised everyone by moving to the LA Galaxy in 2007 following his exit from Real Madrid, a move that gave him a reduced franchise.

Beckham and his wife, Victoria, a former Spice Girls singer, blended in with Los Angeles' celebrity culture, and the move was celebrated as the beginning of a new era for American football.

Messi's transfer, on a free deal following the end of his contract with Paris Saint-Germain, will have a bigger impact.

Former U.S. national team player and current TV analyst Eric Winalda said: "He's the most famous and best player on the planet at the same time. It will not only be a magnet, it will provide an opportunity to see greatness."

Messi's decision overshadows the biggest surprise in North American football, when the late Brazilian legend Pele returned from retirement to sign with New York Cosmos, a little-known in the United States, in 1975.

But as the United States prepares to host the World Cup in 3 years, Messi's arrival coincides with a moment of great glow for the sport, and will increase the popularity of the MLS at a tremendous speed after the competition has developed steadily since the first season in 1996.

Andrew Zimballist, a professor at Smith College who co-authored "National Entertainment: How Do Americans Play Baseball and the World Play Football?" said the MLS won't match any European league competition overnight.

"Most true fans of football in the United States will turn to European football when they want to see the highest level of competition and not the MLS, but Messi will have a big imprint in changing that."

After announcing the move to Inter Miami, the United States. A video circulating on social media platforms of the "flea" driving his car and drinking mate.

— Al Jazeera Sports (@AJASports) June 8, 2023

Saudi newspapers criticize 'contradictory' Messi

At a time when the international and American newspapers praise Messi, the Argentine star was criticized by Saudi newspapers for refusing to join Al Hilal and preferring to move to Inter Miami, as he himself announced on Wednesday.

The newspaper "Al-Riyadia" under the headline "The negotiator refused to bargain" via sources that "the Saudi negotiator categorically refused to increase the previous offer to Messi," which the media estimated at about 400 million euros ($429.5 million) a year.

The move to the bottom of the MLS Eastern Division, which is co-owned by former English star David Beckham, has alarmed Saudi media.

The newspaper "Okaz", entitled "Flea contradicts himself", said "While he refused to waive his financial claims as a condition for returning to Barcelona, he contradicted himself when he assured some media that accepting Inter Miami's offer was not because of money, but because of his desire to defend the colors of this club."

The newspaper "home" that Messi's father and the player "stall in response" to the offer "leader", while the newspaper "Riyadh" that "the desire of the family" turned his destination to Miami.

The sports minister #طارق_ذياب analyzes and reads the player's #ميسي orientation two months before his transfer

These people who know how to predict and analyze are not luck lottery

— Attia Alzahrani (@ateehsaleh) June 8, 2023