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Just… how?! Pure, unimaginable Messi magic in his scorching Inter Miami debut

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Lionel Messi, Inter Miami

UPDATED | ORIGINALLY: Where will Messi go next?

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.

Lionel Messi has struck a stunning, top-corner, 94th-minute free kick to launch his Inter Miami chapter in extraordinary scenes.

It provided fans – both locally and globally – an unforgettable moment, scoring his new side a rare win. Miami are on the bottom of the Eastern Conference — now five wins, 14 losses and three draws on the season.

But his Major League Soccer injection has undoubtedly breathed unprecedented hype and interest into the competition.

36-year-old Lionel Messi officially joined Inter Miami in mid-July, after the bombshell move was announced in June. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner signed a deal that will see him in Florida through 2025.

That huge development followed confirmation the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi will not renew his contract with Paris Saint Germain (PSG), leading the GOAT to free agency.

Lionel Messi, Inter Miami

Messi joined the Ligue 1 club in summer 2021, after a La Liga salary cap reduction of €200m forced Messi out of FC Barcelona — the club he was loyal to for 18 years. Since then, he has won two Ligue 1 titles for PSG in just two years.

It was initially believed that the World Cup winner would extend his expiring deal with PSG, before rumours began circulating that he was planning his exit. Scroll down to see which sides he was linked to, before opting for the States.

In what’s a huge boost for the Major League, Messi joins the American team co-owned by David Beckham. He went very, very close to signing with Saudi team Al Hilal. He also strongly considered a Barca return, the city and club closest to his heart.

“I’d love to be close to Barcelona,” he said.

“I will live in Barcelona again, it’s already decided. I hope to help the club one day, because it’s the club I love”.

“Money, never been an issue with me,” he continued, via football reporter Fabrizio Romano.

Messi
PSG & Barca Lionel Messi

“We didn’t even discuss the contract with Barcelona. They sent me a proposal but was never an official, written and signed proposal.”

“I was dreaming of Barça return, yes; but I was never sure about that happening because I remember very well the story of August 2021, two years ago.”

“We never negotiated my salary. It wasn’t about money otherwise I was going to join Saudi”.

Let’s have one final recap at the football decision that Messi was weighing up and unpack what we know about Messi’s next chapter.

When will Messi play for Inter Miami?

The Argentinian megastar may be seen in the bright pink kit for the MLS club as soon as July 21, with Inter Miami opening its Leagues Cup campaign against LIGA MX side Cruz Azul (Mexico).

“We are overjoyed that the greatest player in the world chose Inter Miami and Major League Soccer, and his decision is a testament to the momentum and energy behind our league and our sport in North America,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Lionel Messi Inter Miami

How close did he get to signing in Saudi Arabia?

The Argentine was suspended by Paris Saint-Germain, before the season concluded, for taking a trip to Saudi Arabia without the club’s permission — fuelling suspicion that he is headed to the Middle East to finish out his career for a fat pay check, like Cristiano Ronaldo.

According to reports, PSG denied Messi’s request to travel for commitments relating to his role as a Saudi tourism ambassador. He went anyway and it since made a lot more sense. He was reportedly in the very final stages of inking a deal with Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal football club.

Leo had been linked to a move to the Saudi Arabia Pro League for months, where Ronaldo currently plays.

Messi was reportedly offered a contract worth a staggering $AUD1.9 billion over two years, which would’ve made him the highest-paid player in football history. It’s an amount that makes your eyes water.

messi
Lionel Messi makes a call on his future.

What other Messi links had been doing the rounds?

A Messi return to Barça

Of course, a return to his beloved FC Barcelona would’ve been the fairytale ending to Messi’s incredible career. And it was never ruled out, right down to the final hour.

After winning Ligue 1 with PSG, he skipped out on the awards night to go to a Coldplay concert in Barcelona. And while he could just be a diehard Chris Martin fan, it was also a sign he hadn’t shut the city out of his life.

There were varied reports that the Argentinian is Barca’s top priority.

Back in July, club president Joan Laporta teased that Messi’s chapter at Barça was “not over”, promising that he will have a “more beautiful ending” at the club than he was given when FC Barcelona couldn’t afford to renew him in 2021.

“I would hope that the Messi chapter isn’t over,” Laporta told ESPN. “I think it’s our responsibility to try to … find a moment to fix that chapter, which is still open and hasn’t closed, so it turns out like it should have, and that it has a more beautiful ending.”

More recently, Laporta met with Messi’s dad and agent Jorge Messi to discuss a range of topics, including a potential tribute match. However, it remains unclear if transfer discussions took place.

Lionel Messi PSG
Where will PSG’s Lionel Messi go?

“I met Jorge Messi yes,” Laporta said. “We talked about the World Cup and a tribute match for Leo. He’s at PSG right now, so I don’t want to speak about whether or not he could return”

As for how the financials play out this time around, club VP Eduard Romeu has confirmed that “it would be possible financially” for a Messi return. However, he stressed that it would come down to whether it’s the right decision for the club and the player, rather than a question of whether the club could simply afford to do it.

“But it’s a decision which has to be made by the coaching staff and the player. It doesn’t correspond to me [to make those decisions], but it would be viable,” Romeu told Catalunya Radio in September.

The initial Inter Miami links

Back in November it was reported that Messi was ‘close to agreeing to a deal’ with Inter Miami, to play in the MLS. The deal reportedly would’ve seen him become the highest-paid player in Major League history.

However, sources at the time claimed that he was not going to agree to a contract while he was still focussing on the 2022 FIFA World Cup — which was, in hindsight, a good call considering he went on to captain Argentina to their first victory since 1986.

Messi had previously stated his desire to play in the MLS, and Miami would make sense as a good fit for the 35-year-old (36 this month), who owns a house in the area and holidays there regularly.

There had definitely been interest in a Messi move to Miami, but was unclear how high this one is on his priorities in 2023. Now we know.

‘Will Messi do a Ronaldo?’

Another option for the certified GOAT was to follow in the footsteps of his lifelong rival Cristiano Ronaldo and move to Saudi Arabia.

Previously, the General Secretary of the Saudi Football Federation rubbished this rumour by clarifying that there is no news currently on his potential move to the Saudi league. The Federation did clarify that there was a hope he would make the shift one day.

“At the moment we do not know anything about a possible Lionel Messi arrival, although I do not hide that, as Saudi Federation, we would like to have him one day in the domestic league,” Ibrahim Alkassim told Marca.

A move to Al-Hilal might have become a realistic possibility, had he stayed one more season at PSG.

‘Will he stay at PSG?’

And last, but certainly not least, there was the possibility of Messi choosing to stay at PSG.

For some time now, the rumours and reports had the Argentinian leaning further away from renewing his Paris Saint-Germain contract.

Messi’s father and agent Jorge Messi did receive an offer for a contract extension from PSG. And early reports suggested that his renewal was all-but-certain with a “verbal agreement” reportedly made between the two parties in December.

His original deal allowed him the option to stay on until summer 2024, an additional year. But then, his victory at the FIFA World Cup likely gave his team even more negotiating power to secure a more lucrative deal for his final few years in the game.

Lionel Messi Inter Miami

A huge boost for football in the United States

This is all a bit of a history lesson now. At the age of 36, Messi will provide the US-based Major League incredible buzz and unprecedented coverage on ESPN’s ‘Sports Center’ and the like. It will once again put the MLS on football’s world map, like David Beckham once had it. It’s a huge win for the United States and will give the sport untold attention, during the build up to the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the USA, Canada and Mexico; a larger tournament than ever before also, with more teams.

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