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Lionel Messi introduced by Inter Miami and Major League Soccer


AP Sports Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Lionel Messi walked out from behind a curtain, took a few steps along a rain-slicked runaway set up over the field at Inter Miami’s stadium and headed toward David Beckham for a big hug.

His journey was complete. Inter Miami’s wait was over.

At long last, Messi has arrived.

Inter Miami — after years of plotting, pleading and hoping — introduced arguably the game’s biggest star on Sunday night, presenting their new franchise player with his pink No. 10 jersey that millions of people will be buying over the coming weeks and months.

“I’m sure we’re going to have many wonderful experiences,” Messi told the crowd.

Sunday was the first one. Almost every seat was filled despite horrible weather conditions that delayed the show, and nobody seemed to mind soaking rain that pounded down throughout the evening.

“I’m very much moved to be here in Miami, to be with you,” Messi said. “I want to thank you, all of you, on behalf of my family, for the kindness that you have given me.”

Beckham, the team’s co-owner and president, had huge dark blotches on his blue blazer because of the rain.

It was going to take more than a downpour to ruin this party, one where fans roared and music boomed.

“Tonight is a typical Miami welcome for one of the greatest players to ever have played the game,” Beckham said during the telecast of the show. “The fact that we have our fans in here, celebrating this moment … this is what we have created and we’re very proud of that.”

Added primary owner Jorge Mas: “When David and I first met and we dreamt of what Inter Miami represents, it started off with the freedom to dream. And we dreamed of not only bringing elite players and the best players but the best player to ever don boots — and his name is Lionel Andrés Messi.”

When Inter Miami began floating the notion that it would be the team to land Messi and bring the World Cup champion to Major League Soccer, there were no shortage of people who were, to put it mildly, skeptical about how realistic a plan that was.

Among them: MLS Commissioner Don Garber. Yes, even the man running the league had a bit of doubt.

Not anymore. Messi to Miami isn’t just crazy talk. It happened, with Messi now tasked to lift a team that currently has the fewest points in the MLS standings and is mired in an 11-game winless streak.

“Here we are today with a player that I think, without doubt, is not only a generational player but in my opinion the greatest of all time,” Garber said. “Went through a process throughout his decision-making period over the last number of months, if not the last year, to determine where he was going to play. Many of you have heard us say that we want MLS to be a league of choice, a league of choice for players, for fans, for partners, and ultimately for investors.

“And when you have the best player of all-time making Major League Soccer his league of choice, I think it’s a real testament to where MLS is and where it’s going in the years ahead.”

The event billed as “The Unveil” happened at the team’s stadium in Fort Lauderdale. It comes one day after Messi, MLS and Inter Miami finalized his signing through the 2025 season.

It’s the start of a busy week of events for Messi with his new club. His first official training session that will be open to reporters is set for Tuesday and — if all goes to plan — he will play Friday in a Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul. That could also be the Miami debut of World Cup winner Sergio Busquets, a Spanish midfielder who completed his long-awaited signing with the club Sunday through the 2025 season.

Busquets, who turned 35 on Sunday, and the 36-year-old Messi were teammates previously at Barcelona.

“This is a special and exciting opportunity that I’m very excited to take,” Busquets said.

Messi, a World Cup champion for Argentina and seven-time Ballon d’Or winner as the world’s best player in a given year, is joining a club that has the fewest points in MLS and is mired in an 11-match winless streak. Inter Miami opened the season with two wins and has gone 3-14-3 since. It has 12 MLS matches left this season, and is 12 points out of a playoff spot — so it’s going to take a ton of wins just to have a chance.

The club previously announced that Messi’s deal will be for 2 1/2 seasons and will pay him between $50 million and $60 million annually — putting the total contract value between $125 million and $150 million in cash alone. There are other factors, the value of which isn’t known.

“This ought to be fun. … This journey here in Miami has been an epic one,” Garber said.

Messi’s greatness is not in question; he led Argentina to the World Cup this past December and is still generally considered one of the very best goalscorers in the world — if not the best.

That said, not everyone believes Messi coming to MLS will be a cakewalk, even for a legend.

“He won’t find it easy here,” Wayne Rooney, the former England and Manchester United great who now coaches D.C. United, told The Times of London for a story published Sunday. “It sounds mad, but players who come in find it’s a tough league. The travelling, the different conditions in different cities, and there’s a lot of energy and intensity on the pitch.”

But Rooney also knows how Messi playing here is huge for MLS, and huge for soccer in the U.S.

“Americans love winners,” Rooney said. “Above all, they want to see skill and to be entertained, and Messi brings all that.”

Messi announced his decision in early June, and the buildup to Sunday was growing ever since.

“This is our moment,” Mas said. “Our moment to change the futbol landscape in this country.”


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