Despite heavy rain and thunderstorms, 20,<> fans gathered on Sunday in the stands to celebrate the presentation of Argentine star Lionel Messi to the fans of his new team Inter Miami to start a new phase of his career, which the commissioner of the American league considered a "testimony" in the face of the Saudi revolution in the transfer market and the huge signings made by its clubs.
Heavy tropical rains forced organizers to delay the 36-year-old's presentation ceremony, and fans were forced to seek shelter from inclement weather or wait in their cars.
The presentation ceremony for the former Barcelona star and Paris Saint-Germain began about two hours later than originally planned.
Former England star David Beckham, co-owner of the club, opened the ceremony by saying Messi's arrival was "a dream come true".
Sí, Muchachos📍 pic.twitter.com/8E3f9hb9VU
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) July 15, 2023
The former Manchester United player, whose move to the LA Galaxy in 2007 was one of the most notable deals in MLS history, said of the Qatar 2022 champions: "Leo, we are very proud that you have chosen our club for the next stage in your career."
"Welcome to our family, Leo," he added in Spanish to cheers from the crowd.
✨ Libertad para soñar ✨ pic.twitter.com/76PSDLcoK0
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) July 16, 2023
"This is our moment"
Jorge Mas, owner of most of the club's shares, said that "tonight is a gift and a celebration for the city, which has opened its arms to my family. Tonight we do this in the rain... This is holy water! This is our moment! Our moment to change the football landscape in this country."
Maas then introduced Messi as "your new number 10, number 10 for America."
Messi, who arrived in Miami on Tuesday with his family, told the audience: "Thank you so much to all the people for supporting me and giving me this love. I'm very happy to be here in Miami."
"I really want to start with practice, competition. I have the same competitive desire that I have always enjoyed, the desire to win, to help the club continue to grow. I am very happy, because I chose to come to play in this city with my family, because I chose this project. I have no doubt that we will enjoy it very much, we will have a good time and very good things will happen."
On Saturday, Messi signed a contract with Inter Miami until 2025 with the ambition to continue building "this beautiful project", he said.
Messi, whose transfer is estimated at $60 million a year, will be the most prominent name ever to move to the MLS since Brazilian jewel Pele, who arrived at New York Cosmos in 1975.
His arrival is expected to boost the number of new subscribers to the NBA season pass on Apple TV. Ticket prices for the matches he is likely to participate in have also increased.
He is joined by his former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets, while Argentine Gerardo "Tata" Martino, former national team coach and Catalan club, will oversee the team.
"I'm very happy to be part of Inter Miami." – Sergio Busquets pic.twitter.com/Uqmpfqw0U6
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) July 17, 2023
Saudi spending will not hinder MLS league plans
MLS commissioner Don Garber said Messi's decision to join Inter Miami was a "message" to the Saudis, who are spending a lot of money to bring big stars into the country's league, most notably Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Al Nasr last season before being joined this summer by his former Real Madrid teammate French striker Karim Benzema.
Al-Benz is not just a scorer, but an integrated ⚽️☝️ offensive system #Tigers_in_Taif pic.twitter.com/pr2P3F2EWd
— Al Ittihad (@ittihad) July 14, 2023
Garber said Saudi Arabia's large spending would not hinder MLS plans to attract significant global attention after Messi's arrival.
He said he was not worried about Saudi competition in signing veteran stars who were a potential target for the MLS, adding: "I've seen it happen with China (which for a while attracted many stars), I wasn't worried about that and I wouldn't worry about what was happening in Saudi Arabia either, on the contrary."
"The fact that we can spread the power and impact of professional football around the world gives us all an opportunity in emerging markets. It's not just about Europe (where the biggest stars play), is it? It's also about here (MLS). So I don't feel any threat (from the Saudi league)... It's just one more thing in this really complicated business that we're in, and we're going to be able to handle it, and I think we're going to be fine."
With the arrival of the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, the MLS along with its partner Apple TV hopes to generate revenue by selling subscriptions to the league globally.
Garber said the league, which broadcasts in Spanish, some in French and, of course, English, is considering introducing other languages to broaden the appeal of broadcasting.
"MLLS has an opportunity to continue to be a bigger, broader and more valuable player on the world stage of football... The league is significant, has 30 teams and is valued at $15 billion. When I took my job, it was worth $250 million."
"You've heard us say we want MLSS to be a preferred league for players, for fans, for partners and, ultimately, for investors."
"When the best player in history decides to choose Major League Soccer, I think it's a true testament to where MLS has come and where it is going in the years to come."