Last updated on 10 hours ago10 hours ago.From the section Football
New signing Lionel Messi has been officially presented to cheering crowds at Inter Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium.
A sold-out crowd of about 20,000 waited through downpours and lightning to see the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner given a number 10 shirt.
In a brief address in Spanish, Messi, 36, thanked supporters and said he had the “same desire” he always has.
The World Cup-winning Argentina forward joins the Major League Soccer (MLS) club on a deal until the end of 2025.
He will be reunited with defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets – with whom he played at Barcelona – who has also signed for Miami until 2025.
Busquets, too, was formally unveiled during Sunday night’s event.
Messi entered the pitch via a huge catwalk and was introduced as “America’s number 10, the world’s best number 10”.
Seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady and four-time NBA champion Stephen Curry also welcomed him to the United States in video messages.
“I really want to start training, to compete,” Messi said. “I have the same desire that I always had to compete, to want to win, to help the club continue to grow.
“I am very happy to have chosen to come to play in this city with my family, to choose this project and I have no doubt that we are going to enjoy it a lot.
“We are going to have a good time and very good things are going to happen.”
Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer, said someone of Messi’s status choosing to play in the league was a “transformational moment”, and he hoped the signing would “shout to the world that this is a soccer nation”.
Garber added: “It’s been so many years of developing this league into becoming a player on the global stage, so it’s a very momentous night for us.”
The DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale is Inter Miami’s temporary stadium and has a capacity of 18,000, making it the joint-smallest in MLS along with San Jose Earthquakes’ PayPal Park in California.
A temporary grandstand has been erected to allow more fans into the ground.
Messi left French champions Paris St-Germain at the end of the 2022-23 season after scoring 32 goals in 75 games across a two-year spell.
He turned down lucrative offers from other countries to play in the US – and this is the first time he will play for a non-European club.
Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham hailed Messi’s signing as a “dream come true”.
“Leo, we are so proud that you have chosen our club for the next stage in your career,” he said.
Inter Miami’s primary owner, American billionaire Jorge Mas, called Messi “the best player ever to don boots”.
Messi is expected to be available to play for Miami against LIGA MX side Cruz Azul on 21 July in their opening match of the Leagues Cup.
He reunites with his former Barca and Argentina boss Gerardo Martino after the 60-year-old was appointed manager in June following the sacking of Phil Neville.
The arrival of Messi in the US has been met with feverish anticipation by the fans of Inter Miami, who only started playing in the Eastern Conference of the MLS in 2020.
“This is a dream come true for anybody to have the best player in the world at their home team,” said one supporter. “I’m dreaming right now.”
Another fan said that while she did know and care about the club, it was Argentina legend Messi who was the main attraction.
“[Messi] is everything,” she said. “The emotion that he caused us when he won the World Cup is indescribable. This means everything to us.”
The ownership were also praised by fans for their commitment to bringing a huge signing to the south Florida side.
“They have been making promises and keeping promises,” said a fan. “They promised world-class soccer and they have been able to provide it. They have been able to deliver.
“We are grateful that Messi has been able to choose Miami. A lot of naysayers and a lot of doubters, but Miami was able to make it happen.”
In June, reports said Messi was offered a deal by Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal worth $1.5bn over three years.
With him opting to join Inter Miami instead, one fan felt Messi’s signing could take football in America “to the next level”.
He said: “Much like when Pele joined the New York Cosmos [in 1975], same thing. Bring him up.”