The greatest soccer player of his era, and maybe the greatest of all time, is coming to the United States for the twilight of his career. Lionel Messi, 36, officially joined Inter Miami of Major League Soccer, the club announced in a release on Saturday.
His contract commits him to the team through the 2025 M.L.S. season. Messi will reportedly earn between $50 and 60 million per year in a compensation package that includes a signing bonus and equity in the team.
“I’m very excited to start this next step in my career with Inter Miami and in the United States,” he said in a statement. “This is a fantastic opportunity and together we will continue to build this beautiful project.”
Messi had revealed his plans to play for Miami last month and was spotted shopping with his family at a Miami-area grocery this week.
He is expected to join the team in the next week, which would put him on track to make his debut for Inter Miami in a Concacaf Leagues Cup game against Cruz Azul of Mexico on July 21.
A soccer prodigy as a child in Argentina, Messi moved to Spain to sign with Barcelona at age 13 and soon became a talked about young player. He made his debut with the first team at 16 and went on to a spectacular career, winning every major trophy and six Ballons d’Or as the world’s best player. He moved on to Paris-St. Germain in 2021, where he won another Ballon d’Or, and his team dominated the French league, although it failed to win the Champions League.
He has been the leader of the Argentine national team almost since his 2005 debut, and added the final trophy missing from his collection when he won the World Cup with them last summer.
The consensus of fans and historians has been that his greatness as a player is rivaled perhaps only by Cristiano Ronaldo in his own era and by Pelé and Diego Maradona from any era.
Messi’s signing completes what could be described as the quiet Barcelona-fication of Inter Miami that preceded his formal arrival. The team’s chief business officer and its top operations and facilities executive are both former Barcelona employees. Last month, Inter Miami announced that Messi’s former midfield teammate at Barcelona, Sergio Busquets, would be its second marquee signing of the summer.
Then, two weeks ago, Gerardo Martino, the Argentine known as Tata who had coached Messi at Barcelona, was hired as Inter Miami’s coach. At his introductory news conference, he spoke openly of working with Messi and Busquets, and left little doubt that he saw his new challenge as more than a reunion.
“Sometimes we associate the United States, Miami, are linked with the idea of a vacation,” Martino said. “This isn’t that. We want to compete.
“They are not players who are going to come here to not compete.”
The signing is reminiscent of 2007, when Los Angeles Galaxy of M.L.S. signed the world’s most famous player, if not the best, David Beckham, at age 32. Beckham played in L.A. for six years, winning two championships, and brought the league unprecedented exposure.
M.L.S. has long spoken of eventually matching the quality and visibility of the world’s top leagues. It will hope that Lionel Messi’s golden years help push it in that direction.