Lionel Messi is taking his talents to Miami
It’s official — the greatest soccer player in the world is set to come to Miami.
Hours after first reports of the move emerged on Wednesday morning, taking a years-long rumor into overdrive, Lionel Messi himself confirmed he intended to join Inter Miami CF.
In an interview with the Spanish sports daily newspaper Sport, he also underlined that day-to-day life in Miami was a key factor in his decision.
“I made the decision that I am going to go to Miami," he said. "I still don't have it 100% closed, maybe something's missing, but we decided to continue the journey there.”
It's an exchange that reverberated in the city, with echoes of LeBron James' infamous 2010 announcement that he would play for the Miami Heat.
And with both the Florida Panthers and the Heat representing the area in the finals of their leagues, the announcement turned what was already a South Florida sports moment into sports mania.
Jorge Mas, one of the owners of Inter Miami, tweeted out a photo of a darkly silhouetted Messi jersey shortly before his announcement.
Messi, 35, played his last game over the weekend for Paris Saint-Germain, or PSG, the French club he spent the last two seasons with.
After years of open courtship from Inter Miami, fans had grown skeptical of speculation that talismanic co-owner David Beckham — a global football icon himself — would be able to tempt the best player in the world to join his young, and struggling, team.
In recent weeks the rumor was that Messi would choose to play for Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia, following in the footsteps of his longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo. The country has attracted some players where some clubs are now funded by the state's sovereign wealth fund.
Going back to Barcelona, a storied franchise that he spent most of his career with, was another possibility.
But out of the blue reports emerged from Europe on Wednesday morning that he had made his decision. The topic quickly took over the conversation in South Florida and before long fans were put out of their misery when they heard the words come out of his mouth in a video interview.
He explained in the interview with Sport that his first choice was to return to his boyhood club, Spain's Barcelona, but when that did not materialize, Inter Miami was always going to be his destination.
It had often been said that living in Miami, where Messi already owns a home, appealed to the superstar and his family — and he confirmed that, also, was true.
Asked if the transfer was about moving out of the spotlight, he said, "Yes ... After winning the World Cup and not being able to go to Barcelona, it was time to go to the U.S. league to live football in another way and to enjoy more the day-to-day life.
"Obviously, with the same sense of responsibility and hunger for winning and doing things well, always. But with more tranquility."
Speaking on CBS Sports' Golazo, commentator Nico Cantor called Messi's announcement the moment that Major League Soccer has been waiting for. He said he has seen his phone blow up with the news.
"Everyone is going wild," he said. "Because maybe Inter Miami didn't have that same pull that you imagined the MLS in Miami team to have. And now everybody wants to be on the Inter Miami bandwagon because of Messi. "
Tom Bogert, MLS reporter for The Athletic, said in a tweet, "A lot of the discussion today may seem like hyperbole, like getting wrapped up in the moment but make no mistake about it — this is a transcendent day in the history of soccer in the United States and the MLS."
A statement from Major League Soccer read, "We are pleased that Lionel Messi has stated that he intends to join Inter Miami and Major League Soccer this summer. Although work remains to finalize a formal agreement, we look forward to welcoming one of the greatest soccer players of all time to our League."
Inter Miami only has single-game home tickets on sale for July 1 in a matchup against Austin FC at this time.
*Reporting from the Associated Press contributed to this story.
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