Don’t let your memes be dreams, kids.
After years of wish casting, reports out of the global soccer scene have all but confirmed that arguably the great soccer player of all time, Lionel Messi – a player whose list of accolades is so long and so known that there is no point in listing them all here – will be joining Major League Soccer squad Inter Miami in the near future.
Messi’s biographer Guillem Balague reported on Wednesday morning that the 35-year-old forward is taking his talents to South Beach, with mega insider Fabrizio Romano backing it up early in the afternoon with the “Here We Go” heard around the world.
Finally, Messi himself has confirmed that negotiations are in the final stages, while Miami ownership and the team account have also at the imminent signing. The press release is still to come, but the deal, for all intents and purposes.
Messi has been connected to Inter Miami since pretty much the moment the team was founded in 2018, much of which the generational talent has played along with. The Spanish-speaking population, the weather and celebrity scene in Miami, and perhaps most obviously, the David Beckham connection were key to the speculative links.
After all, Beckham was MLS’ first mega-splash in 2007, when he signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Part of his massive, league-transforming deal was the right to buy his own team for just $25 million. Beckham made the most of this and launched Inter Miami with the clause. While he sold off much of the franchise to Jorge and Jose Mas for a large, instant profit along with stable footing for the team’s cash flow, he’s maintained a significant share and remains the president of the team.
Messi’s deal is expected to come with huge non-salary incentives as part of the play to woo him across the pond as well, with his former Barcelona wanting him back and the Saudi state reportedly offering him a lucrative salary to join their league. MLS knows that it can’t be the highest bidder in this race, but the league can provide him with the best combination of compensation and environment with the right partners.
The Athletic released an article yesterday suggesting that the MLS has league jersey manufacturer and Messi sponsor, Adidas, involved in a potential revenue-sharing deal, and league digital broadcaster, Apple, is involved as well, offering both revenue sharing on streaming subscriptions and his own docuseries, the latter of which was already announced on Tuesday. Messi may also get the Beckham arrangement in his deal, though with the league having more than double the teams it did at the time of Beckham’s signing and already having 29 clubs, it’s hard to be sure how that will work.
Messi’s contract with Paris St-Germain ends at the end of this month, meaning that we could potentially see him in MLS for the second half of this season, similar to Canadian side Toronto FC’s additions of Italians Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi last year. Unfortunately for Canadian soccer fans, Miami has has already come through Toronto (March 18) and Montreal (May 27), and while they will face Toronto again in September, it will be in Miami. A date with Vancouver isn’t on Miami’s schedule this year.
From a team perspective, it’ll be interesting to see what this does for Miami’s chances this year. As it stands, they’re far longshots to win the 2023 MLS Cup, currently posting the worst record in the Eastern Conference and third worst in the league, with an MLS-leading 11 losses in 16 games. However, MLS favours a North American-style playoff system over the traditional table system, having a Supporters Shield for the regular season but giving preference to the knockout trophy. In that sense, they could still have a chance – their five wins are the second most for any non-playoff team, their goal differential of -6 is salvageable, and they’re only six points out of the play-in race in the East.
So am I saying there’s a chance? If he joins in July, yes. Of course, we’ll start to really test the limits on how much one player can transform an 11-man squad, but if the slips stay in the +5000 range, it’s one of the more intriguing longshots you’ll find. Even without the futures at play, though, we’re all winners here – even at the back end of his career, getting a player of Messi’s magnitude would be one of the biggest hauls in recent North American sports history, and arguably MLS’ biggest game-changing move in the last 10 to 15 years. With an even more mature league now than when the Beckham Experiment (shout out to Grant Wahl) began, the potential for a momentum shift in the league’s perception is massive, especially if Leo is able to give us a couple more years of great form.
The move will also be a great setup for the 2024 Copa America, which Messi is expected to play for with Argentina, and the 2026 World Cup, where the then 39-year-old will be a little less likely to play, but still very likely to be surrounding, be it as a substitute, as a supporting cast member for his country, or potentially as a spokesperson. The former is being primarily hosted in the United States, and the latter in the US, Canada, and Mexico, so having the global face of the sport (and arguably sport in general) around to drum up interest in the game within the country, and the country within the game is a huge plus.