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Messi says he's joining MLS club Inter Miami despite Barca, Saudi interest

Shaun Botterill - FIFA / FIFA / Getty

Lionel Messi is coming to Major League Soccer.

The Argentine superstar ended months of speculation about his future Wednesday by announcing his intention to play for Inter Miami.

"I've made the decision that I'm going to Miami," Messi said in an interview with Spanish outlets SPORT and Mundo Deportivo, as translated by The Athletic. "It's still not a done deal 100%. I'm missing a few things, but we've decided to keep going down the path."

Messi, 35, will officially become a free agent when his contract with Paris Saint-Germain expires later this month. The Ligue 1 champions said last week that he wouldn't renew his deal after two seasons in the French capital. Barcelona and Saudi Pro League side Al-Hilal were heavily linked with Messi for some time. Al-Hilal reportedly tabled the most lucrative offer, but Messi said he only considered returning to Catalonia. When it became apparent that reunion wouldn't materialize, he decided on Miami.

"If the Barcelona thing didn't work out, I wanted to leave Europe, leave the spotlight, and focus more on my family," he added.

"I had a lot of hope that I'd be able to come back (to Barcelona), but after living what I lived through and the exit that I had (from Barcelona), I didn't want to come back to be in the same situation: to wait and see what was going to happen or leave my future in the hands of another person."

This will be the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's first experience playing senior club football outside of Europe following a decorated career at Barca and a brief stint at PSG. In 853 club matches in Europe, he scored 704 goals, recorded 303 assists, and collected 37 trophies.

Markus Gilliar - GES Sportfoto / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Inter Miami, sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference, weren't alone in their quest to sign the most successful player in football history. Adidas and Apple, Major League Soccer's top commercial partners, apparently contributed to getting Messi to the U.S., according to The Athletic.

Both companies are understood to have played a role in negotiations, with multiple sources telling The Athletic that MLS and Apple discussed offering Messi a portion of the revenue generated from new subscribers to the league's streaming package on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+. Apple also announced Tuesday that a four-part documentary about Messi's five career World Cup appearances will be exclusively available on Apple TV+ this year.

Adidas' bid to convince Messi to move to North America includes a profit-sharing agreement with the German sportswear company, per The Athletic. Messi will reportedly receive a share of increases in the company's profits pertaining to his transfer to Inter Miami. Messi signed a lifetime footwear sponsorship deal with Adidas in 2017 after initially partnering with the company in 2006.

The Athletic also reports that Messi's contract is expected to include an option to purchase a stake in an MLS club after he's finished playing in the league. David Beckham had a similar clause in his deal with the LA Galaxy that allowed him to purchase an expansion team for a discounted fee of $25 million. He and a group of investors were announced as Inter Miami owners in 2014 before the club began play in 2020.

Al-Hilal were in the running to make Messi the latest superstar to join the Saudi Pro League after Cristiano Ronaldo's and Karim Benzema's arrivals. The club reportedly offered Messi a more lucrative deal worth €400 million a year, which would've doubled the amount of the contracts his ex-Real Madrid rivals received.

But Al-Hilal, one of four Saudi Pro League clubs taken over by the country's Public Investment Fund earlier this week, recently became worried that Messi lost interest and accepted that they were out of the race to sign him on Wednesday, sources told ESPN.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have repeatedly expressed their desire to re-sign Messi after his 2021 exit. But their efforts to reunite with the 2022 World Cup winner fell short due to the club's financial constraints. Despite their best efforts to adjust their payroll and make a move for Messi viable under La Liga's salary cap, the legendary forward didn't want to wait any longer for Barca to get their house in order.

"Even though I heard that (Barca) said that the league had accepted everything and that everything was OK for me to come back ... there were still a lot of other things missing," Messi explained.

That led him to Inter Miami, who are without a permanent head coach after sacking Phil Neville last week amid the team's disappointing season. Inter Miami have just 15 points after 16 MLS games.

Messi's former Argentina coach, Gerardo "Tata" Martino, has held talks about possibly replacing Neville, The Athletic reports.

Messi could reportedly make his Inter Miami debut in the club's Leagues Cup match against Mexican side Cruz Azul on July 21.

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