The soccer world was rocked on Wednesday with news that Lionel Messi, one of the greatest to ever play the game, is coming to Major League Soccer and will play for Inter Miami CF after leaving Paris Saint-Germain.
It is a historic coup for U.S. soccer's top league and a huge sign of intent: the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner (soccer's biggest individual prize) will reportedly play in MLS through 2026, when the nation jointly hosts the next World Cup with Mexico and Canada. He's joining a team in need, with Inter Miami CF dead last in the MLS table, with 15 points from their first 16 games.
Messi of course won the World Cup with Argentina in 2022, more or less "completing" the sport in terms of trophies and accomplishments -- scoring over 800 goals in professional soccer along with more than 300 assists -- and will be the anchor of one of MLS' most intriguing and star-powered clubs. At just 35 and fresh off a strong season with PSG, he'll be looking to add more accolades and accomplishments to his résumé, which includes 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions League titles with Barcelona.
Said Messi about the move, "I still don't have it agreed upon 100 percent and a few things are needed, but, well, we decided to continue my path there.
"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 and to enjoy the day-to-day more. Obviously, with the same responsibility and desire to play well and do things well as always. But in a calmer way."
While details still need to be worked out as to completing his move, his decision is made and the rest is mere paperwork. Here's what we know, what we think we know, and what we don't know about Messi to MLS.
What does Lionel Messi's contract look like? How was MLS able to bring him in?
Let's start with the fun part: Messi was making a reported $45 million per year (net) in Paris, and MLS has strict salary cap and roster rules to prevent such contracts with any one player. So what kind of deal could he get?
The Miami Herald reported that it would be a "complicated" deal valued between $125 million and $150 million over the length of the contract, which it estimates to be 2½ years in length, with an option year for 2026. The report states it would include salary, bonuses and equity in the team. Both Apple (the MLS broadcast partner) and Adidas (one of the league's biggest sponsors) were offering profit-sharing agreements on merchandising and subscriptions to MLS Season Pass.
The news of Messi's MLS decision also came one day after Apple announced a four-part docuseries on AppleTV+ about Messi's World Cup journey, from his first tournament appearance in 2006 to eventual trophy in 2022.
"We are pleased that Lionel Messi has stated that he intends to join Inter Miami and Major League Soccer this summer," MLS said in a statement on Wednesday. "Although work remains to finalize a formal agreement, we look forward to welcoming one of the greatest soccer players of all time to our League."
When will Lionel Messi make his debut?
Reports vary, but multiple outlets believe July 21 is his proposed debut, although "later in July, at the earliest" and "August" have been floated as well. (The MLS regular season ends Oct. 21, with the playoffs running from Oct. 25 through to MLS Cup on Dec. 9.)
July 21 is significant because Inter Miami CF host Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup, a tournament between teams from MLS and Mexico's Liga MX.
July 19 is also a date to watch, at least in a sense of a grand unveiling event: the 2023 MLS All-Star Game takes place that night at DC United's Audi Field, with the MLS All-Star XI taking on English Premier League side Arsenal in the annual showpiece fixture. If Messi's not lacing up his boots for it, expect him to be presented to a delirious crowd in prime time.
It's worth noting that before all of this, Messi's Argentina national team has two scheduled friendlies in June, against Australia (June 15, in Beijing) and Indonesia (June 19, in Jakarta), but no squad has yet been announced and it's entirely possible the 35-year-old will not be involved in those fixtures.
How, and why, is Messi coming to MLS?
The U.S. league has courted Messi as far back as 2018, when David Beckham and his partners were officially awarded the 25th MLS franchise by league commissioner Don Garber. It was Messi who dropped the first hint in a congratulatory Instagram post to Beckham after that announcement, joking that "who knows, maybe in a few years you will give me a call" regarding playing in South Beach.
Thanks to some creative deal-making, the league finally has its biggest star yet, and the announcement is the culmination of years of hard work. As far back as 2010, Garber was determined that MLS be one of the "top leagues" in the sport by 2022; while that was said around the time the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were awarded -- which ended up going to Russia and Qatar respectively -- the North American three-country bid for 2026 was successful, and with Messi reportedly under contract heading into that World Cup year, it's fair to say that the MLS project now has added fuel heading into that event.
How is Inter Miami CF doing this season in the standings?
It's a good thing the world's best player is coming to South Beach, because Inter Miami need it. They have just 15 points from 16 games so far this season -- five wins, 11 defeats -- and have scored just 15 goals. That record is good enough for last place in the Eastern Conference, though it's not all bad news: with 12 matches still to go in the regular season, they're only six points away from being in the top seven and thus qualifying for the playoffs.
How does David Beckham factor into this?
The legendary England star was himself a major coup for MLS when the Manchester United and Premier League luminary swapped Real Madrid and LaLiga for the LA Galaxy in 2007. Part of the deal was the ability to start his own MLS franchise in the future for a cut-price $25 million fee -- the most recent MLS team awarded, in San Diego, had a reported fee of $500 million in 2023, for comparison -- and it is that team for which Messi will suit up this season.
Beckham and Messi have various ties and connections despite never playing side by side in their careers. Beckham played his final professional season for PSG in 2013 and was recently working with Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) -- which owns PSG, where Messi played from 2021 to '23 -- as an ambassador for its 2022 World Cup hosting efforts. The pair are also major superstars in the Adidas portfolio of athletes and celebrities, which has helped them remain in contact over the years.
Who owns Inter Miami CF?
Beckham is one of three people listed as owner or co-owner of the MLS franchise alongside Jorge Mas, a billionaire businessman, and Jorge's brother Jose. The Mas brothers also work together as chairman and CEO respectively of Mas-Tec, a massive U.S. infrastructure provider.
How have ticket prices been impacted by Messi's announcement?
U.S. soccer fans have responded to the news by buying up tickets to every remaining MLS game involving Inter Miami CF, home and away -- even those in which he's certain not to play or even feature as a substitute.
Prices for his reported July 21 debut against Cruz Azul soared some 1000% -- lowest available ticket prices went from $29 to $329 -- while road games also saw significant jumps. The team's visit to the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 26 saw a 1,236% increase in prices, while its trip to Southern California to face LAFC on Sept. 3 saw ticket prices jump 420% according to TickPick.
However, fans everywhere are hedging it just in case: DC United reportedly sold another 3,000 tickets for a July 8 home date with Inter Miami CF even though it's well before Messi's alleged first game.
Can Messi win a trophy in his first MLS season?
Amazingly, it's all still up for grabs. The generous MLS playoff bracket means a handful of good results in a row can vault Inter Miami CF from last in the Eastern Conference into the postseason, and there's the aforementioned Leagues Cup if they perform well right out of the gate.
The club is also preparing for the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup -- the nation's oldest and longest-running cup competition -- against FC Cincinnati. That game isn't until Aug. 23, so Messi should be in decent shape for it.