The World Cup winner — whose unparalleled talent and rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo defined football for more than 15 years — will in all likelihood ply his trade in southern Florida with Inter Miami CF this summer.
Rebuffing an offer from Saudi Arabia and a chance to join his old club Barcelona, Messi said on Wednesday that he intends to join Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States, although an agreement has not yet been finalised.
At 35, Messi is older than the MLS itself: Its inaugural season was in 1996. By the time Inter Miami first took the field in 2020, the Argentinian superstar had already amassed dozens of titles and awards.
Here, Al Jazeera looks at five key facts about Inter Miami, the club soon to be home to a player often called the GOAT — the greatest of all time.
David Beckham co-owns the club
While Messi and Ronaldo were the biggest names in football in the 2010s, in a previous era David Beckham was perhaps the game’s most famous player.
The Englishman himself played in the MLS with the LA Galaxy team between 2007 and 2012. Beckham’s spell in Los Angeles, home to many movie stars, paparazzis and celebrities, helped cement his fame in the US.
In his playing days, Beckham established himself as a globally renowned celebrity-athlete, famous not only for his football skills but also for his off-field life as a fashion model. He also made numerous public appearances with his wife Victoria Beckham, a fashion designer and pop star.
Beckham helped establish Inter Miami in 2018 with investors Jorge Mas and Jose Mas, with whom he continues to co-own the club. Beckham has said that he sees Inter Miami as a “hotbed” of local young talent.
Team has struggled
Inter Miami have struggled to deliver results over their three-plus seasons in the league, despite the Beckham-induced attention the club has been receiving.
In their current campaign, they sit last in the Eastern Conference with 15 points in 16 games. Inter’s best season was last year when they finished sixth in their conference but crashed out in the first round of playoffs.
When he joins Inter Miami, Messi will have to get used to terms like “conference” and “playoffs”. The MLS format does not follow the international standards for league football.
The league is split into two conferences based on geographical regions whose top teams meet at the end of regular season for a knockout tournament. There is also no relegation or promotion — or even a second-tier league in the MLS.
Inter Miami sacked their head coach Phil Neville last week after a string of bad results.
In 2021, Beckham pleaded for patience after a disappointing 10th place finish the previous season, saying that even great clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United were not “built in a day”.
For most football fans around the world, the name “Inter” brings to mind an entirely different club: Inter Milan, current Champions League finalists and 19-time Italy champions.
So when Inter Miami came into being, a legal dispute ensued between the two Inters over trademark rights in the US.
The American Inter — formally the Club Internacional de Futbol Miami — and the Italian Inter — formally the Football Club Internazionale Milano — both laid claims to the name’s commercial use in the US.
After years of litigation, neither team has been forced to change its name or marketing strategy. After all, the football world has countless Uniteds and Reals, even two Liverpools and two Barcelonas, that managed to co-exist for decades. It may have to live with two Inters.
Messi will be wearing Inter Miami’s distinctive pink going forward. Since its inception, the club adopted pink as its primary colour, and it has been playing with an all pink kit for the past two seasons.
The colour is meant to reflect the “vibrant soul of South Florida”, the club says.
“The good news is when you turn on the TV and see us in pink, you’ll know it’s us,” Mike Ridley, senior vice president of brand and marketing at Inter Miami, told Sports Illustrated last year.
“If you’re going to own it, own it. I think all-pink is going to be very striking and you’re not going to miss us, that’s for sure.”
Although flamingos can be occasionally spotted in Florida, the team’s logo features a white heron — a more common bird in that part of the world.
The bird is “an embodiment of unification and a core element of the Club’s identity”, Inter Miami says on its website.
Higuain played there
Another Argentinian great and a former national teammate of Messi has played for Inter Miami. Ex-Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain signed for the club in 2020 and stayed there until his retirement in 2022, scoring 29 goals along the way.
But he was in the twilight of his career by the time he moved to the MLS and never made the buzz Messi is generating.
Messi will certainly hope his American adventure will be more memorable than that of his compatriot.