Just before 9 pm on Sunday, the greatest football player of his time, and perhaps the greatest of all time, walked across a makeshift stage in his new stadium. He embraced his new team owners, including former superstar David Beckham. As he held up his new jersey – a pink No. 10 – Lionel Messi smiled and looked out over the crowd and fireworks.
If it seemed like a dream that Messi, who won the World Cup in December as captain of Argentina and who won seven Ballon d’Ors as the best player in the world, chose Inter Miami of the MLS as his team for the twilight of his career, his inauguration event was proof that, yes, this really happened.
“First of all, I want to thank Miami for this reception and for the kindness since I arrived in the city,” Messi said in Spanish in his first public comments since his monumental contract, which runs until the 2025 MLS season, was announced on Saturday. . “To be honest, I am very excited and very happy to be here in Miami and to be with you.”
For two minutes, Messi, 36, spoke directly to Inter Miami fans, who chanted his last name throughout the night at DRV PNK Stadium, about 30 miles north of downtown Miami. Messi’s introduction was called La PresentaSíon, or the Presentation in Spanish, but with “Sí” (“Yes”) emphasized. And in typical South Florida style, it happened in the rain.
In choosing Miami, where he has properties, Messi turned down the chance to play in Saudi Arabia, where a team offered him a lot more money. He also turned down the possibility of returning to Barcelona, where he signed as a 13-year-old, won every major trophy and wanted to stay on before moving to Paris-St. Germain in 2021.
Long before Messi’s time in France came to an unceremonious end this summer, the owners of Inter Miami dreamed of bringing him to South Florida. Sunday’s event and the weeks leading up to it showed just how much Messi has already shaken up the franchise, the region and American football.
“There will always be a before and after Lionel Messi,” said Jorge Mas, the Cuban-American billionaire and owner of Inter Miami, who played his inaugural season in 2020.
“We are given the legacy of the greatest player in the world, who started at Newell’s Old Boys, went to Barcelona and ended at PSG,” continued Mas, listing Messi’s previous teams, including his youth team in Argentina. “But today it is in the hands of Inter Miami and its fans. This is our moment. Our moment to change the landscape of football in this country.”
The rain had eased by the time Messi spoke, but torrential downpour disrupted the early festivities and flooded parts of this makeshift stadium. (Inter Miami hopes to move into a proposed new stadium near Miami International Airport in 2025.) On Sunday, the 19,000-seat stadium certainly lacked the size or energy of the Camp Nou in Barcelona or the Parc des Princes in Paris, but most fans wore team or Messi uniforms. A shirtless fan waved a huge flag with Messi in an Argentina shirt. Argentina shirts were the second most popular clothing choice, with some fans wearing Messi’s Barcelona shirt.
The celebration, broadcast globally in English and Spanish on Apple TV+, MLS’s first-year streaming partner, with some glitches, deliberately coincided with half-time in the Concacaf Gold Cup final, which Mexico won 1-0 over Panama. .
Before Messi addressed the crowd, Mas and Beckham spoke. Beckham, an Englishman who signed for MLS side Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, read his prepared remarks on his mobile phone, adding a bit of Spanish. But he used both languages throughout his speech. After all, Miami is the unofficial capital of Latin America, and Florida has the largest Argentinian community in the United States.
“I know the people of South Florida will hold you all in their hearts,” said Beckham. “We are building a special club here at Inter Miami, a club that represents this special place and its people.”
Before Messi appeared, Beckham introduced the team’s second signing of the summer, Sergio Busquets, Messi’s former Barcelona teammate. Busquets also spoke, but briefly. The night, imperfect and all, belonged to Messi.
Not known for being loquacious, Messi was concise on Sunday. Wearing a white Inter Miami T-shirt and jeans, he thanked the team’s ownership group for making him and his family feel welcome. He said he hopes the fans will continue to watch and grow with the team.
“I really want to start training and competing,” said Messi, who joins a team that is bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference. “I came with the desire to always compete and want to win.”
Messi also thanked his teammates, several of whom were on the pitch.
“I am very happy that I chose to come to this city with my family and that I chose this project,” he said. “I have no doubt that we will enjoy and have fun and beautiful things will happen.”
After Messi handed over the microphone, a video played on the big screen with many celebrities, such as retired Argentinian basketball star Manu Ginóbili and Miami residents Gloria and Emilio Estefan, welcoming Messi to the city and wishing him good luck. Then Messi’s families and owners joined them on stage for photos. Musical acts followed.
Afterwards, Messi signed autographs for fans in the stands. Tuesday is your first official training session with your teammates, and Friday will be your first game. This is his new home.