FOXBOROUGH — The Revolution will meet Inter Miami at Gillette Stadium Saturday, but they won’t have to worry about Lionel Messi just yet. Messi, whose contract with Paris Saint-Germain expires June 30, has agreed to join Inter Miami and could finalize the deal soon.
“I decided to go to Miami,” Messi said Wednesday in an interview with Diario Sport, a Barcelona daily. “It is still not 100 percent completed but we’re continuing on that path.”
Messi, who turns 36 on June 24, would become MLS’s biggest signing since David Beckham in 2007, and also boost the prospects of Inter Miami (5-11-0, 15 points), which stands in last place in the Eastern Conference.
Inter Miami, whose owners include Beckham and Bentley graduate Marcelo Claure, apparently won a bidding war for Messi with Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia and FC Barcelona, his club from 2000-21 (he moved to Barcelona as a 12-year-old).
Al-Hilal, backed by sovereign funds, offered a two-year contract worth $1.3 billion. Barcelona, which lost Messi to PSG after experiencing financial problems, only earned La Liga approval to make an offer Tuesday, and it would be contingent on transferring several players.
Messi chose Miami, where he owns a home, partly because of the preference of his wife, Antonella, for South Florida over Saudi Arabia, and also because he did not want to wait for Barcelona to make arrangements.
Messi seemed to favor Al-Hilal, visiting the club after skipping a PSG practice session in May, and playing host to a delegation from Al-Hilal Monday.
Miami’s deal clincher apparently was raising its offer to about $200 million over four years via a contribution from Apple TV, which is paying $2.5 billion over 10 years for MLS broadcast rights.
In the past, Messi has indicated he might end his career with Barcelona, Newell’s Old Boys (his first club in Argentina), or in MLS. The Saudis entered the picture after bringing in Cristiano Ronaldo, 38, to Al-Nassr for more than $200 million annually, and Karim Benzema, 35, to Saudi Pro League champion Al-Ittihad for $100 million a season.
Messi, who led Argentina to the World Cup title last year, scored 16 goals this season as PSG won Ligue 1 and reached the Round of 16 in the Champions League. With Barcelona, Messi was named Ballon D’Or winner seven times, and helped his teams capture 10 La Liga championships, seven Copa Del Reys, plus four Champions League titles.
Revolution sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena compared Messi’s impending arrival to Pelé joining the New York Cosmos in 1975 and Beckham the Los Angeles Galaxy, who won two MLS Cup titles with Beckham playing and Arena coaching.
“In our sport, there’s not a bigger name than Messi,” Arena said after practice Wednesday. “And when Pelé came to the NASL, I think you could’ve said the same. What it will do remains to be seen, but certainly it will be a boost.
“What the Messi acquisition would do for the league is a little different than the famous first move the league made with David Beckham. David was 31 years old at the time and I think we felt he had probably four or five years in the league in him.
“Messi’s career is certainly towards the end. Hopefully, he can play two or three more years. I don’t know what their expectations are. You can’t question his qualities; he’s one of the greatest players ever.
“The visibility will be tremendous, it will be similar to Beckham. Beckham’s impact may have been a little greater because the league wasn’t as established as it is now. But Messi coming here would certainly be a boost to the league.”
Messi, though, might not have an easy time in MLS.
“It is difficult,” Arena said. “Because not only will he be playing with players of different quality than he’s played with at PSG and Barcelona, but he’s also going to be playing in some difficult conditions in South Florida, which will be challenging, challenging for everyone.”
Revolution forward Bobby Wood said he would welcome Messi.
“To have, technically, the best player ever in this league will only grow the sport,” Wood said. “I don’t think there will be any negatives having such a big name. The popularity, having people, even to away games, coming to stadiums, will only grow the sport and grow the league.”
Revolution captain Carles Gil, who competed against Messi in La Liga (his Deportivo La Coruna team taking a 2-1 victory over Barcelona in 2017), said, “He’s obviously one of the best players ever, and he will get the league a lot of exposure in the world. We had the satisfaction of winning against him in La Liga, and if he comes here, we will have a chance to do it again.”
World Cup to MLS
Lionel Messi would be the latest player from a World Cup winner to join an MLS team. The others:
Denilson, Brazil: Dallas
Youri Djorkaeff, France: NY Red Bulls
Thierry Henry, France: NY Red Bulls
Kaka, Brazil: Orlando City SC
Kleberson, Brazil: Philadelphia Union
Lothar Matthaeus, Germany: MetroStars
Blaise Matuidi, France: Inter Miami
Alessandro Nesta, Italy: Montreal
Andrea Pirlo, Italy: NYC FC
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany: Chicago Fire
David Villa, Spain: NYC FC
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.