Staff at the Fiorito restaurant pose in front of a mural of Lionel Messi to celebrate after the Argentine soccer star announced he is joining the Major League Soccer team Inter Miami, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, in Miami. AP
The 36-year-old striker who sparked Argentina to a World Cup title last year in Qatar, is set to be unveiled by the team in a Sunday ceremony and expected to join Inter Miami on the pitch as early as Friday.
"I'm very excited to start this next step in my career with Inter Miami and in the United States," Messi, who moves from Paris Saint-Germain, said in a statement.
The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's arrival in Miami has already caused a sensation and is expected to spark greater interest in the game and MLS across the United States.
It's also hoped he'll revive the fortunes of a Miami squad at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference at 5-13 with three drawn.
"This is a fantastic opportunity and together we will continue to build this beautiful project," Messi said. "The idea is to work together to achieve the objectives we set and I'm very eager to start helping here in my new home."
Messi's debut match is planned for Friday when Inter Miami will host Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup, a revamped competition between MLS and Mexican league squads.
It's the biggest boost for the North American league since English star David Beckham, now a co-owner of Inter Miami, joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007. He launched the MLS Miami squad in 2020 after years of trying to find a stadium site.
"Ten years ago, when I started my journey to build a new team in Miami, I said that I dreamt of bringing the greatest players in the world to this amazing city, players who shared the ambition I had when I joined LA Galaxy to help grow football in the USA and to build a legacy for the next generation in this sport that we love so much," Beckham said in a statement.
"Today that dream came true.
"I couldn't be prouder that a player of Leo's caliber is joining our club, but I am also delighted to welcome a good friend, an amazing person and his beautiful family to join our Inter Miami community.
"The next phase of our adventure starts here and I can't wait to see Leo take to the pitch."
Inter Miami head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino has managed Messi in two separate prior stints –- with FC Barcelona in the 2013-14 campaign, winning the 2013 Spanish SuperCup, and from 2014-2016 with the Argentine national team.
Messi captained the Albiceleste to victory at the 2021 Copa America as well as the Qatar World Cup and has 103 goals in 175 appearances for Argentina.
"We're overjoyed that the greatest player in the world chose Inter Miami and Major League Soccer," MLS commissioner Don Garber said.
"His decision is a testament to the momentum and energy behind our league and our sport in North America. We have no doubt that Lionel will show the world that MLS can be a league of choice for the best players in the game."
Messi is set for a glitzy arrival ceremony on Sunday at "The Unveil" with 18,000 expected to watch his first public event with his new club, followed by his first news conference with Inter on Monday and first training session with the club on Tuesday.
"I'm honored to welcome Leo Messi and his family to their new home," Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas said. "We made a promise to build an ambitious club that would attract the world's elite players... a heartfelt thank you to our fans that never stopped believing. Together we will continue to turn dreams into reality."
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