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SPORTS | 07-06-2023 17:14

Messi chooses Miami: Argentina skipper confirms he will move to MLS

Argentina's World Cup winning captain reveals he will sign for Major League Soccer side Inter Miami, choosing the United States as his next destination over a Barcelona reunion or blockbuster deal in Saudi Arabia.

From his own lips: Lionel Messi is moving to Miami.

Argentina's World Cup winning captain on Wednesday announced he will sign for Major League Soccer side Inter Miami, choosing the United States as his next destination over a Barcelona reunion or blockbuster deal to play in Saudi Arabia.

The Rosario-born wonder, 35, has spent the last two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain. He played his final game for the club on Saturday, after moving to France from Spanish side Barcelona in 2021, where he spent the majority of his career.

Messi said in an extended interview that he did not want to have to wait for Barcelona to find a formula to be able to sign him given their financial situation – they were unable to keep him before his move to PSG, leading to a tearful departure.

MLS and Inter Miami confirmed the news on social media.

"I was afraid that it would happen again," Messi told Spanish newspapers Diario Sport and Mundo Deportivo.

"I've taken the decision that I am going to Miami, I don't have [the deal] 100 percent sealed or maybe there's something left to do, but we decided to continue our path there.

"[I decided] to leave Europe... after winning the World Cup and not being able to go to Barça, it's time to go to MLS to live football in a different way and enjoy my day-to-day life more.

"Obviously with the same responsibility and desire to win, and to do things well, but with more calm," the star explained.

Messi is a seven-time Ballon d'Or winner and is expected to earn the individual accolade once more after leading Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar in December 2022.

 

Eagerly awaiting

The football world was eagerly awaiting Messi's decision after PSG confirmed this week the playmaker, widely considered the best player in the history of football, was departing.

Inter Miami, co-owned by former England international David Beckham and founded in 2018, sacked coach Phil Neville last week with the team bottom of the Eastern Conference – with Argentine coach Javier Morales taking over on an interim basis.

There is now a distinctly Argentine feel to the Miami club, which has a strong South American fan base – as well as Morales, goalkeeping coach Sebastián Saja played four times for the national side and eight years with Argentine club San Lorenzo.

Federico Higuaín, the brother of former Argentina and Real Madrid forward Gonzalo, is the head coach of Inter's reserve team, assisted by compatriot Cristián Raúl Ledesma.

Rumours are also circulating that ex-Atlanta United, Barcelona Argentina and Mexico manager Gerardo Martino is set to join the club as head coach in the coming days.

 

Behind the deal

The romance of a Barcelona return and prospect of eye-watering riches in Saudi Arabia fell by the wayside as Messi opted to join MLS, with sun-soaked Miami a city he has holidayed in on previous occasions.

Some reports say key MLS sponsors including sportswear brand Adidas and Apple TV, who own the league's domestic broadcasting rights, may be contributing to his deal.

Apple TV announced a new four-part documentary series featuring "exclusive behind-the-scenes access" to the football megastar yesterday.

No broadcast date was given for the documentary, which will be produced by Smuggler Entertainment and was filmed in Paris, Qatar and Argentina.

Messi, who turns 36 later in June, is now set to finish his club career outside the spotlight of top-level European football.

A source with knowledge of negotiations in Saudi Arabia told AFP last month that it was a "done deal" for him to play in the Gulf state, although the player's father and agent Jorge Messi denied then that his son had decided his next destination.

 

No return to Barça

Barcelona were hopeful of an emotional reunion with Messi who joined their academy at 13 years old after leaving his homeland.

Messi became the Catalan club's greatest icon, scoring a record 672 goals in 778 games, winning 35 trophies, including four Champions League triumphs and 10 La Liga titles.

Barcelona could not renew his contract in 2021 because of their perilous financial position and Messi said a tearful goodbye in a press conference before signing for Paris Saint-Germain.

President Joan Laporta and coach Xavi Hernandez have rebuilt the club without Messi, winning La Liga this season for the first time since 2019, but both had pledged to do their utmost to bring the club icon back this summer.

Jorge Messi was seen on Monday visiting Laporta's house and told reporters that his son would like to play for Barcelona again.

Although Messi would doubtless be able to contribute as Barcelona battle to return to Europe's elite, as the sun sets on his career Messi will instead watch on from a distance, far from the Camp Nou pressure cooker.

 

Disenchantment

After his unexpected Barcelona departure, Messi linked up in Paris with his former team-mate Neymar and Kylian Mbappé in a star-studded attacking trident, but PSG flattered to deceive during his time at the club.

While they won Ligue 1 twice, they suffered two devastating Champions League last 16 exits, with Messi a target for supporter anger as the symbol of lavish expenditure on star names at the expense of building a team.

His final weeks in Paris were fraught. Already being booed by supporters, he took an unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia where he is a tourism ambassador, and was fined and suspended by PSG.

Messi returned from suspension to play his 75th and final match for PSG last weekend in a defeat by Clermont, during which he was jeered once more and could not add to his tally of 32 goals for the club.

PSG confirmed this week the Argentine, who earned an estimated annual salary of 30 million euros (US$32.1 million) after tax at the Qatar-backed club, would be leaving, with the world left on tenterhooks to find out his next, and potentially final, destination.

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