Lionel Messi is coming to America. Fabrizio Romano, the Italian soccer journalist who has come to dominate the so-called "transfer season" where the greatest footballers change teams, tweeted on Wednesday that "the decision has been made" and Messi himself will announce his move to the MLS franchise Inter Miami, owned by David Beckham, in the coming hours. It included a picture of Messi in a club polo shirt, wearing Miami's characteristic shade of pink. "Messi will play in MLS next season. No more chances for Barcelona despite trying to make it happen." Within the day, Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Mas would tweet his own confirmation.
Messi was one of the most decorated players in European football at the club level and surely in the pantheon of all-time greats with Brazil's legendary Pelé; the chain-smoking, antiestablishmentarian Dutchman Johann Cruyff; his countryman Diego Maradona; and his contemporary and great rival Cristiano Ronaldo. Many consider Messi the "GOAT," or greatest of all time, a status sealed months ago when he added the one trophy missing from his cabinet: World Cup champion, with Argentina. Now, as Pelé himself did in the disco era with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, Messi looks likely to spend his sunset years in the United States.
Messi’s move to Inter Miami and his rejection of a reported $400 million per year contract in Saudi Arabia is a setback for the Middle Eastern country. With the support of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country has created a multibillion-dollar fund to lure soccer talent. Earlier this week, the country’s sovereign wealth fund nationalized four of Saudi Arabia’s biggest teams. Its sports ambitions also reach beyond soccer. On Tuesday, the Saudi-backed LIV Golf merger with the PGA Tour in a move that has drawn criticism.
Location, ownership, Beckham
Location may be part of Inter Miami’s appeal for Messi, who has a long history of vacationing in the city. He owns a luxury oceanfront condo in the Porsche Design Tower on Sunny Isles Beach, which he purchased in 2019 for $5 million.
Potential for a stake in the franchise is also a factor. David Beckham, who co-owns Inter Miami, may have tempted Messi with a potential ownership stake in the club. If so, Messi’s contract would resemble Beckham’s own 2007 contract with LA Galaxy, which allowed him to later purchase the Inter Miami expansion team for $25 million. Although many Europe-based stars followed Beckham to MLS in the years afterward, Messi would by far be the most significant coup for MLS since the heavily tattoed Englishman.
Inter Miami has been pursuing Messi for years, and the World Cup winner even posted a video back in 2018, hinting at his interest when the club was formed. In a social media video, Messi congratulated Beckham and said, “Who knows, maybe in a few years you can give me a ring.”
In 2021, Inter Miami representatives expressed Beckham’s sustained interest in the star. “David and I have been working really hard, we have aspirations of bringing the best players here and Leo Messi is a generational player, arguably the best player of all time,” Mas told the Miami Herald.
Messi is set to announce the motivations for the decisions today, Romano reported, and his father and agent Jorge Messi is scheduled to fly to Miami tonight.
The GOAT spurns Saudi Arabia
Starting at F.C. Barcelona’s youth academy, Messi spent most of his career at the massive Spanish club before leaving in 2021 to sign with French giant Paris Saint-Germain F.C., an indomitable force domestically since it was acquired over a decade ago by Qatar Sports Investments, an arm of the Middle Eastern state. In Europe, the 35-year-old won the most prestigious club tournament, the UEFA Champions League, four times. He was recognized as the best player in the world with a record seven Ballon d'Or awards, followed only by Cristiano Ronaldo with five.
In the last few months, Saudi Arabia has been luring some of the biggest names in soccer with unprecedentedly expensive contracts. In December, Ronaldo signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr which guaranteed him a reported $210 million a year. On Wednesday, Real Madrid star Karim Benzema signed with Al-Ittihad, Al Nassr’s rival in the Saudi Professional League, on a three-year deal reportedly worth more than $100 million. Chelsea midfielder and World Cup winner N'Golo Kante was also reported to be finalizing a deal with Al-Ittihad worth upwards of $100 million. The reporter was, of course, Fabrizio Romano.
Middle Eastern money in soccer goes far beyond the heavily criticized Qatar World Cup where Messi was crowned champion. Saudi Arabia has gotten into the game, taking over the English Premier League's Newcastle United in 2021. The other great Middle Eastern investor in soccer, Abu Dhabi of the UAE, has owned England's Manchester City since 2008 and is on the verge of a historic "treble" under manager Pep Guardiola, who coached Messi at Barcelona from 2008 to 2012 in what many consider the greatest club football side of all time.
The "silly season" for Romano isn't done yet, of course. At the same time he was breaking the Messi news, he updated the soccer world on two more major transactions: English star Jude Bellingham signing for Real Madrid and yet another Middle Eastern bid for a major European club, Sheikh Jassim of Qatar, making a fifth and final bid for Manchester United, one of the crown jewels in all of sports.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
More from Fortune:
5 side hustles where you may earn over $20,000 per year—all while working from home
Looking to make extra cash? This CD has a 5.15% APY right now
Buying a house? Here's how much to save
This is how much money you need to earn annually to comfortably buy a $600,000 home