Messi to Inter Miami: Why MLS' dream signing could become a reality
Could it finally be real this time? Could American soccer's Lionel Messi dream soon become a reality?
For years, it seemed impossible. Lionel Messi always felt destined to live out his years in Barcelona before maybe, if he felt like it, returning to his native Argentina. There was nothing calling him stateside, no real reason to uproot his life and try something different.
But then the summer of 2021 happened. We know how it went. Barcelona fumbled, Messi was forced to leave and here we are, watching the Argentinian genius play for Paris Saint-Germain.
However, just a year and a half after he changed the dynamics of world soccer by moving to the Parc des Princes, Messi's future is unclear once again. His contract ends in 2023, leaving him free to do whatever he wants to do.
And, according to the Athletic, it's more likely than ever that Messi's next step may be to MLS. The report says that Inter Miami are "increasingly confident", having held numerous meetings with Messi's father over several years, with the most recent talks proving positive.
The two parties won't meet again until after the World Cup finishes, at which point Messi can put pen to paper to sign a pre-contract with any team he'd like.
But could it really be Miami? Could David Beckham's side really take the leap into super-club status by luring perhaps the biggest star this sport has ever seen?
Miami have always been open with the club's admiration for Messi, as both Beckham and co-owner Jorge Mas have been asked many times about the ex-Barca star.
Inter Miami are confident they'll sign Lionel Messi in the summer transfer window, according to The Athletic 😳 pic.twitter.com/hhnTQW26o9— GOAL (@goal) October 31, 2022
“Leo Messi is still one of the best players in the world, his skills have not diminished," Mas said in February. "I think, and David has a relationship with him, if he does leave PSG, at the time he leaves it, we’d love to see Lionel Messi be a player at Inter Miami and be part of our community.
"Can it happen? Look, we’ll push. I’m an optimist at heart. Could I see that happening? It’s a possibility.”
Beckham added: “I’ve always said I want the best players in our club and playing in our shirt because there’s a certain expectation. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be a bad thing. But most of the time it’s a good thing.
"When I first started this project, people were saying 'This guy is coming, that guy is coming, [Cristiano] Ronaldo is coming, Messi’s coming.’ At the end of the day, we need to win, whether it’s with the young kids or stars."
Heading into the 2023 season, Miami has tons of roster flexibility.
After the retirement of Gonzalo Higuain and the potential departures of Alejandro Pozuelo and Rodolfo Pizzaro, the club could use all three Designated Player spots on signings this winter, which would allow them to sign three marquee players.
One could be Messi while the others could, hypothetically, be just about anyone in the world that wants to play with the living legend or vice-versa.
It's not that MLS wouldn't bend over backward to allow any team to sign Messi but, in terms of the rules as they are set, Miami can pull it off.
But just because they could do it doesn't mean they can do it. The hard part isn't affording Messi, but rather convincing him to join.
Every major club in the world would love to sign him, including his former club, but what will it take to pull it off?
When the sleeve matches the player 🐐 pic.twitter.com/mNJFaiwwnE— GOAL (@goal) October 30, 2022
Well, Miami offers several things that most European clubs can't. They offer a heavily South American-influenced culture in a big city that Messi and his family have visited often.
There's also the fact that Miami is a much shorter flight back home to his native Argentina than any European side, which could allow him to spend more time with family and, quite possibly, extend his international career with Argentina for a few more years with less travel wear and tear.
"I always said that I have the impression that I would like to enjoy the experience of living in the United States, of living in that league and that life," the Argentine told La Sexta back in 2020, "but if it happens or not I don't know."
It's widely believed that Miami are the only MLS club that could truly draw Messi. You could never write off the LA clubs and, who knows, maybe ex-teammates David Villa and Thierry Henry could put in a good word for New York.
But, realistically, Miami is the city and club that makes most sense for Messi, with all other teams in MLS standing to benefit from his hypothetical arrival. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the tidal wave brought in by Messimania would be massive.
This move, for Messi, would also be about legacy, not that his needs any more lifting. However, if there was one more frontier to conquer after dominating both Europe and South America, it is the U.S.
Like Beckham before him, Messi's arrival could legitimately change the trajectory of American soccer.
You could even argue that his arrival would have an even bigger impact than his potential future boss Beckham. With American soccer building towards the 2026 World Cup, the arrival of Messi in MLS would elevate the league into a new stratosphere.
Yes, MLS has been home to stars like Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and Andrea Pirlo, among other legends.
But this is Lionel Messi we're talking about. He's simply different. American soccer will not have seen anything like it since Pele was roaming the field for the New York Cosmos 50 years ago.
And that's why this deal might just make sense for all involved. In Messi, Miami get the iconic signing to push them closer and closer to competing with the world's elite.
And in Miami, Messi gets a luxurious landing spot that can allow him to add one more big achievement to his almost unmatched resume by perhaps doing what Pele could not: making the U.S. truly fall in love with soccer for good.
There will be plenty of discussion of Messi's future in the coming months. We've already seen what a summer of Messi was like during his Barcelona exit, and it appears we may just be headed towards part two.
Speculation will run rampant as clubs all over the world will be linked with him as his contract winds down.
Is now the right time? Can Miami really pull it off? We'll see in the coming months. But this is clearly one dream that could come true.