By TIM REYNOLDS AP Sports Writer
Lionel Messi says he is coming to Inter Miami and joining Major League Soccer.
After months of speculation, Messi announced his decision Wednesday to join a Miami franchise that has been led by another global soccer icon in David Beckham since its inception but has yet to make any real splashes on the field.
That likely will soon change. One of Inter Miami’s owners, Jorge Mas, tweeted out a photo of a darkly silhouetted Messi jersey shortly before the Argentinian great revealed his decision in interviews with Spanish news outlets Mundo Deportivo and Sport.
It was widely believed that Messi eventually would choose to play for Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia, following fellow great and his longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo to a nation where some clubs now are funded by the state’s sovereign wealth fund. Going back to Barcelona, a storied franchise that he spent most of his career with, was another possibility.
But in the end, he made the call that surprised many. Messi is joining MLS. He said in the interviews Wednesday that some final details still need to be worked out, but that he has made the call to “continue my path” in Miami.
“After winning the World Cup and not being able to return to Barcelona, it was my turn to go to the league of the United States to live football in another way,” Messi said.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner — they give that trophy annually to the best player in the world — makes his move after two years with Paris Saint-Germain. At 35, Messi has nothing left to prove in the game and filled the only significant unchecked box on his resume back in December by leading Argentina to the World Cup title.
Messi has more than 800 goals in his career, making him one of the greatest scorers in the sport’s history. In more than 17 years of representing Argentina on the international stage, he has scored 102 goals against 38 different national team opponents. He scored twice in last year’s World Cup final against France, a match that officially ended 3-3 with Argentina prevailing in penalty kicks.
He has been to the absolute mountaintop of the game.
And now he comes to MLS, and a team that is struggling — last place in the Eastern Conference, just a few days removed from the firing of coach Phil Neville (who was hand-picked by Beckham two years ago).
Messi’s decision to play in the U.S. might be the biggest boost ever for American soccer on the pro stage. Some of the game’s biggest names — Pele, Thierry Henry, Beckham himself — have come to the U.S. toward the end of their careers, but landing a player still no worse than near the pinnacle of his game and just a few months removed from hoisting a World Cup is simply huge.