Just before 9 p.m. on Sunday, the greatest footballer of his era, and perhaps the greatest player of all time, walked across a makeshift stage in his new home stadium. He embraced the owners of his new team, including former star David Beckham. As he held his new jersey – pink No. 10 – Lionel Messi smiled and looked at the crowd and the fireworks.
If it felt like a dream that Messi, who won the World Cup in December as captain of Argentina and was awarded seven Ballons d’Or as the best player in the world, chose MLS’ Inter Miami as his team at the end of his career, his unveiling event was proof that it did happen.
“Above all, I want to thank Miami for such a warm welcome and kindness since my arrival in the city,” Messi said in Spanish in his first public comment since announcing his mega-deal, which runs through the 2025 MLS season. Saturday. “To be honest, I am very emotional and very happy to be here in Miami and to be with you.”
For two minutes, Messi, 36, spoke directly to Inter Miami fans chanting his name all night at DRV PNK Stadium, about 30 miles north of downtown Miami. Messi’s introduction was called La PresentaSíon, or Presentation in Spanish, but with an emphasis on “Sí” (“Yes”). And in typical South Florida fashion, it happened in the rain.
Choosing Miami, where he owns real estate, Messi refused the opportunity to play in Saudi Arabia, where a team offered him much more money. He also turned down the possibility of returning to Barcelona, where he signed at the age of 13, won every major honour, and wanted to stay before moving on to Paris Saint-Étienne. Germain in 2021.
Long before Messi’s spell in France ended this summer, owners Inter Miami were dreaming of bringing him to South Florida. Sunday’s event and the weeks leading up to it showed just how much of a shake-up Messi has already provided franchise, the region and soccer in the United States.
“There will always be a before and after to Lionel Messi,” said Jorge Mas, the Cuban-American billionaire and managing owner of Inter Miami, which played its inaugural season in 2020.
“We have received the legacy of the greatest player in the world that started at Newell’s Old Boys, went to Barcelona and ended at Paris Saint-Germain,” Maas continued. “But today it sits in the hands of Inter Miami and its fans. This is our moment. Our moment to change the landscape of football in this country.”
The rain had abated by the time Messi spoke, but torrential rain hampered early celebrations and flooded parts of this makeshift stadium. (Inter Miami hopes to move to a proposed new stadium near Miami International Airport in 2025.) On Sunday, the 19,000-seat stadium certainly wasn’t the size or capacity of Barcelona’s Camp Nou or Paris’ Parc des Princes, but mostly dressed up fans. Team or Messi gear. A shirtless fan waves a huge flag showing Messi in an Argentina shirt. Argentina jerseys were the second most popular choice of clothing, with only a few fans wearing Messi’s Barcelona jersey.
The celebration, broadcast globally in English and Spanish on Apple TV+, MLS’ first-year broadcast partner, with some glitches, intentionally coincided with the end of the first half of the CONCACAF Gold Cup final, which Mexico won 1-0 over Panama.
Before Messi addressed the crowd, Mas and Beckham spoke. Beckham, an Englishman best known for signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy from MLS in 2007, read his prepared comments from his cell phone, sprinkled with some Spanish. Mas used both languages for his entire address. Miami, after all, is the unofficial capital of Latin America, and Florida has the largest Argentine community in the United States.
“I know the people of South Florida will take all of you to their hearts,” Beckham said. “We’re building a special club here at Inter Miami, a club that represents this special place and its people.”
Before Messi’s debut, Beckham introduced the team’s second signing of the summer, Sergio Busquets, Messi’s former teammate at Barcelona. Busquets also spoke, but only briefly. Tonight, imperfect and all, belongs to Messi.
Not known for being talkative, Messi was laconic on Sundays. Dressed in a white Inter Miami T-shirt and jeans, he thanked the team’s ownership group for making him and his family feel so welcome. He said he hopes fans will continue to watch and grow fonder of the team.
“I have a great desire to start training and competing,” said Messi, who joined a team in last place in the MLS Eastern Conference. “I come here with the desire to always be competitive and I want to win.”
Messi also thanked his teammates, many of whom were on the field.
“I am very happy for choosing to come to this city with my family and choosing this project,” he said. “I have no doubt we’re going to have fun with it, we’re going to have fun, and beautiful things are going to happen.”
After Messi handed the microphone, a video was shown on the big screen featuring several celebrities, such as retired Argentine basketball star Manu Ginobili and Miami residents Gloria and Emilio Estefan, welcoming Messi to town and wishing him well. Then Messi’s families and owners joined them on stage for a photo op. Musical works followed.
After that, Messi signed autographs for the fans in the stands. Tuesday is his first official training with his teammates, and Friday will be his first match. This is his new home.