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Messi Out to Rescue Inter Miami

In case you somehow hadn’t heard, Lionel Messi is heading to Miami.

Following months of speculation over his future, the footballing icon has agreed to join the Florida-based franchise as he embarks on a new chapter outside of Europe.

Messi, 35, was incessantly linked with a return to Barcelona where he became the man he is today.

An illustrious 16-year stint at the Catalan club saw him win ten Spanish league titles and conquer Europe on four occasions, as well as a plethora of individual honours, records and achievements.

Lionel Messi with Barcelona
Messi with Barcelona in 2011. (Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images)

That prosperous era was brought to an abrupt end two years ago, when Barcelona's crippling financial situation meant that Messi, club captain at the time, was unable to be registered with LaLiga and he was subjected to a heartbreaking exit from the club he had represented since aged 13.

Messi has spent the past two seasons with Paris St-Germain, a spell which has been described as 'fruitful but not enjoyable' for the Argentine. He had been on the receiving end of boos and jeers from match-going fans, particularly since he and his country pipped France in the FIFA World Cup final last year.

As Barca still remain monetarily unstable, Messi opted to pursue a new chapter outside of Europe and he has agreed to a move to the United States.

Saudi Arabia is lately proving an attractive proposition for those approaching the twilight of their playing careers, however Messi is said to have turned down several mega-money proposals from the UAE state in favour of exploring USA.

Considered by many as the greatest ever football player to grace the planet, Messi is set to ply his trade on American soil just like Pelé, Johan Cruyff and several other superstars before him.

Pele's two-year association with New York Cosmos left a lasting impact on soccer in United States, and it is expected Messi will have a similar if not greater impact than Brazil's three-time World Cup winner.

Over the past decade-and-a-half, a host of world-renowned players have tested the waters in Major League Soccer (MLS), typically in the final years of their glittering careers.

The likes of Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Kaká and Andrea Pirlo (among countless others) have all previously enjoyed stints in the States.

David Beckham with LA Galaxy
David Beckham unveiled by LA Galaxy in 2007. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

While there have been a handful of world-renowned personalities to grace MLS, none come close to the influence and aura of one Leo Messi. With that said, it won't be all glitz and glamour for Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain as he has a substantial task on his hands.

Inter Miami sit bottom of the eastern Conference in MLS and they have lost more games than any other team in the entire division, with 12 defeats out of 17. The men in pink are averaging less than a goal per game, having found the net just 16 times so far.

Now unbeaten in six league matches, the board recently took the decision to relieve Phil Neville of managerial duties and subsequently installed Javier Morales on an interim basis.

MLS Eastern Conference log

David Beckham – owner, president and chairman of the Florida-based franchise – is no stranger to Messi and some would argue this move has been years in the making.

When Inter Miami launched in 2018, Messi sent a congratulatory video message to the former England captain in which he hinted: “Who knows, maybe in a few years you will give me a call”.

Well, five years have passed, Beckham did indeed ring and the Argentine received the contact positively.

Messi and Beckham shared a pitch four times before the latter hung up his boots in 2013. Their final on-field meeting came in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, as Messi's Barca edged Beckham and PSG on the away-goal rule.

This proved to be a final bow in Europe for Beckham, who retired months after the Parisians' exit to the Catalans.

A decade later, in April this year, Beckham paid a visit to his former team in the French capital and was pictured with Messi. There is no doubt the footballer-turned-businessman would've mentioned the prospect of trading Paris for Miami.

David Beckham and Lionel Messi
Beckham (PSG) and Messi (Barcelona) clashed in 2013. (Photo:Jose Jordan/AFP via Getty Images)

A large chunk of Beckham's post-playing career has been devoted towards the establishment and subsequent development of his franchise in Fort Lauderdale. Inter Miami was founded in 2018 and made its MLS debut two years later.

The 2022 season saw the Herons achieve their best tally of 48 points and a sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference, though Beckham's club is still, inevitably, playing catch-up to the more established franchises across the division.

Mainly with thanks to Beckham, the MLS is in a far better state than when he signed for LA Galaxy in 2007. At the time there were 15 clubs in the league; Inter Miami became the 25th and today there are 29 teams competing in the American top flight.

Beckham is the one who paved the way for high-profile pros to enjoy their sunset years with an alternative backdrop to the highly competitive scene in Europe.

David Beckham, owner of Inter Miami, in 2020
Beckham has been influential for Major League Soccer. (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The acquisition of the seven-time FIFA World Player of the Year will only fast-track the growth and expansion of Inter Miami both within and beyond America.

Similarly with the influx of end-of-cycle players heading to Saudi Arabia, many will now push their agents to secure moves to MLS with the prospect of sharing a pitch with the Rosario-born sensation.

Messi has yet to officially endorse or acknowledge his new team via social media, and yet Inter Miami's official Instagram page has skyrocketed from one million to eight million followers since announcement of the move on June 7.

Last Wednesday. the same day the news broke, ticket offices of several MLS franchises witnessed a surge in sales as supporters across the nation anticipate their teams hosting Inter Miami and, more importantly, Messi in the coming months.

Some ticket prices soared five-fold and others as much as 16x the value prior to the news of Messi joining Inter.

Messi's contract at PSG doesn't expire until June 30, meaning his debut for Inter Miami will be in July at the very earliest.

However, there is a strong likelihood the 35-year-old will take an extended break following a gruelling European season which sandwiched an unusual winter World Cup, meaning that Messi's first outing for his new team may only come in August.

Lionel Messi and the FIFA World Cup trophy
Messi led Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar. (Photo: Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)

Media reports have linked Messi's former teammates, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, with a move to Miami after the duo departed from Barcelona in weeks gone-by.

The potential additions of Busquets and Alba (both aged 34) would provide a significant boost to Inter's fortunes in the second half of the season. They are two seasoned Spain internationals and during their prime years were among the world's best in their respective positions.

Another ex-teammate, Andres Iniesta is looking for a new club as the 39-year-old prepares to leave Japanese outfit Vissel Kobe.

Messi's countryman Angel di Maria is also on the market as his contract at Juventus expires this month.

Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets at Barcelona
Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets (Photo: FC Barcelona)

(Cover Image: @PSG_English on Twitter)

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