The 35-year-old’s contract with Paris Saint-Germain expired following the 2022-23 season, bringing an end to his somewhat disappointing two-year spell in the French capital.
Lionel Messi finished 2021-22 with only 11 goals across Ligue 1 and the Champions League, and his form this past season steadily fell off after he helped lead Argentina to a FIFA World Cup title.
In May, Lionel Messi also drew a two-week suspension from the club for taking an unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia, where he’s a tourism ambassador. ESPN’s Julien Laurens reported at the time that “the situation created tensions within the dressing room, with some players unhappy with the incident.”
Lionel Messi’s relationship with Paris Saint-Germain and its supporters deteriorated to the point where divorce was inevitable.
When Lionel Messi was outlining his options in the event, he left France because MLS was always one of the most logical destinations. Inter Miami specifically was linked with him for years.
Matt Lawton of the Times reported in November that Messi was nearing an agreement with the team. A month earlier, The Athletic’s David Ornstein said Inter Miami was displaying “increasing confidence that the proposed transfer will materialize.”
The 2023 World Cup may have shifted Messi’s mindset in the weeks and months that followed. Going into the tournament, he seemed to be approaching the twilight of his career. Then he rolled back the years and won the Golden Ball for the second time.
Closing the door on winning at least one more UEFA Champions League title after he performed at such a high level on the biggest stage would’ve been a tough decision to make.
The second half of the season, however, might have been a bit of a reality check for both the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and European sides that might’ve been interested in signing him.
In March, MLS Commissioner Don Garber told The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio and Pablo Maurer he recognized the financial realities of bringing Messi into the league:
“You’re dealing with perhaps the most special player in the history of the game. So when there are rumors of him connected to Miami, that’s great.
“And if it could happen, it would be terrific for MLS, it would be terrific for Messi and his family, and like everything with us, we try to run every opportunity down. I can’t give any more details than that because we don’t have them. […]
“Because as you all know what’s going on in international football today, with Ronaldo at $100 million … the transfer market is just exploding in ways that are unimaginable. We’re gonna have to structure a deal that’s going to compensate him in ways that he and his family expect.
“What that is? Honestly, we don’t know today, but he’s probably not going to be a (targeted allocation money) player.”
MLS has brought in plenty of notable stars over the years, a list that includes Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Kaká. Messi is in a class by himself, though, and ESPN’s Herculez Gomez argued in April this was a necessary step to help bolster the league’s media rights contract.
Ahead of the 2023 season, MLS took the bold step of signing a deal with Apple to broadcast its games. It was the first of its kind for a major American sports league, and the contract reportedly could be worth $2.5 billion over 10 years.
However, Tenorio and Maurer reported on an important detail in the agreement. Apple has the opportunity to opt out of the deal if unspecified subscriber conditions aren’t met.
Say what you will for David Beckham’s tenure in MLS, but there’s no disputing his presence brought more attention to the league than it previously enjoyed. While the American soccer ecosystem has evolved a lot since then, Garber is basically making the same bet again with Messi.
It’s not enough for U.S. fans to be aware of MLS and catch the occasional game. The league needs those fans to purchase subscriptions to its Season Pass streaming service to make the venture worth it for all parties involved.
While Messi figures to be a short-term solution for Inter Miami on the pitch given his age, MLS is banking on his arrival to have a long-term effect on its bottom line.