Lionel Messi: Thousands of Inter Miami fans defy heavy rain to welcome new face of MLS

Argentine star given a rousing reception in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday

Powered by automated translation

Lionel Messi was given a rousing reception as thousands of fans braved torrential rain to welcome Inter Miami's new superstar signing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Sunday.

Heavy rains delayed Messi's grand appearance before eventually he was paraded as the new face of Major League Soccer (MLS) to a packed DRV PNK Stadium.

Messi, 36, who seven months ago led Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar, was presented to fans during a glitzy event called "The Unveil" at Miami's home stadium.

After being introduced, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner walked towards the midfield along a spotlight-lined catwalk wearing a T-shirt and jeans and was presented with his No 10 shirt before addressing the crowd in Spanish.

"I am very happy to have chosen to come to this city with my family, to have chosen this project and I have no doubt that we are going to enjoy it very much," said Messi.

"We are going to have a good time and great things are going to happen. Thank you very much, thank you all for this day.

"I can't wait to start training to compete. I feel the same desire I've always had to compete, to really want to win and to help it [Miami] continue to grow."

After his remarks, a video compilation of well wishes was played on the stadium's big screen and included messages from the likes of former NFL quarterback Tom Brady and NBA player Stephen Curry.

The former Barcelona forward was then joined on the field by his wife and three children where they posed for photos before more fireworks lit up the night sky.

The event was being held a day after Inter Miami announced that Messi signed a contract that will keep him with the club through 2025.

Messi will be available to make his debut on Friday in a Leagues Cup fixture against Mexico's Cruz Azul.

Messi's arrival is a huge boost for the profile of football in the United States, which will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada.

Following the expiration last month of his contact at Paris Saint-Germain, where Messi spent the past two years, it was widely expected he would either join the growing band of players headed for the riches of the Saudi Pro League or make an emotional return to Barcelona.

Saudi giants Al Hlial reportedly offered Messi a deal worth $400 million a year, while Messi told Spanish newspapers last month that he "really wanted to come back to Barcelona", the club where he spent the majority of his career winning trophies galore and where he remains the club's leading scorer.

However, he had reservations over the club's financial strength.

Messi instead opted for a move to Miami and joins a side co-owned by former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England midfielder David Beckham.

"Like all of you, I cannot wait to see Leo take the field in our colours," Beckham told the crowd moments before Messi was introduced.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the next chapter of our story starts here."

Messi's presence on the pitch can not come soon enough at Miami as the team sit bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference and suffered an 11th successive defeat on Saturday when they lost away to St Louis City 3-0 on Saturday.

Miami are bottom of the Eastern Conference with 18 points after 22 games.

Sunday's ceremony also marked Miami's official signing of former Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets. The Spaniard landed a deal that runs through the 2025 season.

Busquets, 35, and Messi were teammates at Barcelona for 15 seasons, winning 10 league titles, four Champions League crowns and three Club World Cups together.

A World Cup winner and two-time European champion with the Spanish national team, Busquets left Barca this summer as a free agent after spending his entire career at Camp Nou.

"This is a special and exciting opportunity that I'm very excited to take. I'm looking forward to this next step in my career with Inter Miami," Busquets said.

"I was impressed by the club when I came with Barcelona last year and now I'm happy and ready to represent the club myself. I can't wait to help bring the success that this ambitious club strives for."

Updated: July 17, 2023, 6:43 AM