Not even the pouring rain could spoil Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami welcome party on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the new face of Major League Soccer (MLS) was introduced to a packed stadium of adoring fans.
Messi, seven months removed from leading Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar, was presented to fans during a glitzy event called ‘The Unveil’ at Miami’s home stadium.
After being introduced, the seven-times Ballon d’Or winner walked toward midfield along a spotlight-lined catwalk wearing a T-shirt and jeans and was presented with his No. 10 shirt before addressing the crowd with a few brief remarks in Spanish.
“I am very happy to have chosen to come to this city with my family, to have chosen this project and I have no doubt that we are going to enjoy it very much,” said Messi.
“We are going to have a good time and great things are going to happen. Thank you very much, thank you all for this day.
“I can’t wait to start training to compete. I feel the same desire I’ve always had to compete, to really want to win and to help it (Miami) continue to grow.”
After his remarks, a video compilation of well wishes was played on the stadium’s big screen and included messages from the likes of former NFL quarterback Tom Brady and NBA player Stephen Curry.
Messi, 36, was then joined on the field by his wife and three children where they posed for photos before more fireworks lit up the night sky.
The event was being held a day after Inter Miami announced that Messi signed a contract that will keep him with the club through 2025. Messi will be available to make his debut on Friday in a Leagues Cup fixture against Mexico’s Cruz Azul.
‘THE NEXT CHAPTER’
Messi’s arrival is a huge boost for the profile of soccer in the United States, which will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada.
He joins a Miami side co-owned by another global soccer great in David Beckham.
“Like all of you, I cannot wait to see Leo take the field in our colours,” Beckham told the crowd moments before Messi was introduced.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the next chapter of our story starts here.”
Messi has his work cut out to make the next chapter a successful one.
Miami are winless in 11 MLS matches and sit dead last in the Eastern Conference with 18 points after 22 games.
Messi’s next destination after leaving Paris St Germain had been the subject of much speculation.
A source close to Messi had told Reuters he received a formal offer to join Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal in a deal reportedly worth around $400 million a year.
PSG suspended him for making a trip to Saudi Arabia and missing a training session as a result, and the visit fuelled speculation that he would be joining Cristiano Ronaldo in the desert kingdom.
Portugal captain Ronaldo joined Al Nassr last December on a lucrative 2-1/2 year contract.
Messi had also been linked with a return to Barcelona, the Spanish club he helped claim 10 league titles, four Champions League crowns and three Club World Cups.
But in early June Messi announced his decision to join Inter Miami in an interview with Mundo Deportivo and Sport newspaper even though a contract had not yet been signed.