Lionel Messi on Wednesday announced he would sign with Major League Soccer side Inter Miami, choosing the US as his next destination over a Barcelona reunion and a blockbuster deal to play in Saudi Arabia.
"I've made the decision that I am going to Miami, I don't have [the deal] 100 per cent sealed or maybe there's something left to do, but we decided to continue our path there," Messi told Spanish newspapers Diario Sport and Mundo Deportivo.
The BBC first reported the news on Wednesday that Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain had decided to join Inter Miami.
Sources based in the kingdom later told The National that they were not expecting Messi to accept a hugely lucrative offer to play in the Saudi Pro League, despite confidence at the beginning of the week that he would.
Messi, 35, is a free agent after his exit from Paris Saint-Germain was confirmed on Saturday. His contract with the French club expires at the end of this month.
"After winning the World Cup and not being able to go to Barca, it's time to go to MLS to live football in a different way and enjoy my day to day life more," Messi said.
"Obviously with the same responsibility and desire to win, and to do things well, but with more calm."
The former Barcelona forward, a record seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, had been heavily linked with a return to the Spanish champions. However, to make the reunion happen, Barcelona needed to comply with La Liga’s squad-cost limit and have a two-year financial plan approved by the league.
According to the BBC, Messi’s deal with Inter Miami includes a collaboration with blue-ribbon brands such as Apple and Adidas. Messi is already a long-time brand ambassador for the latter.
The report said Messi was convinced to join Inter Miami, who are co-owned by former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder David Beckham, for a variety of reasons, including lifestyle, and a deal with those brands that “extends beyond football”.
Speaking in January last year, Messi said: “I always have had the illusion of being able to enjoy and live the experience of living in the United States, of finding out how that league is, what life is like there.
“I would like to later in my career, but if it happens or not, I don't know.”
Should the transfer to Inter Miami be confirmed, it will mark the first time in his career that Messi plays for a club outside Europe.
Messi’s decision to agree to Inter Miami would represent a significant blow to Saudi. The Argentine, a tourism ambassador for the kingdom, is understood to have been presented with a proposal months ago to join the Saudi Pro League, with reports the contract was worth more than $400 million per year to sign for Al Hilal.
Saudi have already made a huge investment in player recruitment this past six months, with more anticipated to come this summer.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi’s long-time rival, signed for Al Nassr, Hilal’s Riyadh rivals, in December. The former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus forward, whose two-and-a-half-year deal is said to be worth more than $200m per season, went on to score 14 goals in league 16 matches as Nassr finished runner-up last month in the 2022/23 championship to Al Ittihad.
The newly crowned champions, meanwhile, have since added a marquee acquisition to their squad for next season. Karim Benzema, the current Ballon d’Or holder, was on Tuesday confirmed as the Jeddah club’s latest recruit having left Real Madrid on Sunday.
The French forward, 35, agreed to an initial three-year contract. He will be introduced to Ittihad fans in Jeddah on Thursday having touched down in the kingdom from Madrid on Wednesday evening.
Benzema will line up next season alongside N’Golo Kante after the Chelsea midfielder accepted a two-year deal, with an option for another season, on Wednesday with Ittihad.
Other names linked with Saudi include Sergio Busquets, Alexis Sanchez, Jordi Alba, Angel Di Maria, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Wilfried Zaha, and Hugo Lloris.