The world’s best soccer player, Lionel Messi, took center stage Sunday night at Inter Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, walking in front of 20,000 screaming fans for the first time since announcing his tearful $60m-a-year contract. .
Fans waited anxiously to welcome Messi at ‘The Unveil’ – a dramatic end to months of speculation over where the World Cup-winning 36-year-old would play after being let go by French league-leaders Paris Saint-Germain this year. The six-week long-awaited event has finally been put to bed since Messi’s announcement in June – dubbed MLS’ ‘worst kept secret’.
Shortly before 9pm, Messi appeared with his new bosses to unveil his new colors in front of fans and fireworks. Fans went wild as the centre-forward was joined on stage by team president and co-owner David Beckham.
Fans chanted ‘Messi, Messi’ as the Argentine was brought forward to present ‘your No. 10, Miami’s No. 10, America’s No. 10’. Fireworks and camera flashes lit up the dark Miami sky as fans watched history unfold.
Messi gave an emotional speech to his proud fanbase, thanking Beckham for bringing him to the club and outlining his desire to bring a new era of success to the struggling side: ‘Thank you very much. First I want to thank all the people of Miami for this welcome, this love. I want to thank you for the kindness and love you have given me. It happened so fast.
‘I’m so happy to be here, to be with you. I want to thank Jose (Maas, co-owner), David (Beckham) for the welcome. […] I am very happy to choose this project, choosing this city with my family. I have no doubt we are going to have a good time. Thank you all so much for this day.’
‘Welcoming Lionel Messi to Inter Miami is truly a dream come true,’ said former LA Galaxy man David Beckham, reflecting on his excitement about the new club’s growth.
Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi (2nd L) Inter Miami CF David Beckham, Jose R. at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. Maas and Jorge Maas are presented by the owners (from R) as the new players of Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami CF, Florida, on July 16, 2023.
New Inter Miami signing Lionel Messi with owner David Beckham at the unveiling
Lionel Messi’s wife Antonella Roccuzzo and her son watch during ‘The Anvil’ as Lionel Messi is introduced by Inter Miami CF at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on July 16, 2023
It was the start of a busy week for Messi, who fans expect will play in Friday’s League Cup match against Cruz Azul, possibly alongside former teammate Sergio Busquets, who signed for the MLS side from Barcelona this week.
There is now speculation over a possible move for legendary Barcelona defender Jordi Alba, 34, regarded as one of the greatest left-backs of his generation.
The transfer window was huge for Inter Miami who finished bottom of the table last year, with just five wins, three draws and 14 losses.
David Beckham has helped bring a number of older names to the club from Europe over the years, including former Real Madrid and Chelsea man Gonzalo Higuain, PSG midfielder Blaise Matuidi and Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs.
Beckham started the celebrations on Sunday with an emotional welcome speech of his own to Messi: ’10 years ago, I started my journey to build a new MLS team.
‘I said then that I dreamed of bringing the best players in the world to Florida and the great city of Miami. Players who share our ambition to grow football in this country, who will inspire the next generation and help build a legacy in this game.
‘Forgive me for feeling a little emotional tonight. It is truly a dream to welcome Lionel Messi to Inter Miami.
‘Leo, we are very proud that you have chosen this club for the next stage of your career. Welcome to the family.’
Surrounded by his family, Messi was in the spotlight for just a few minutes. He was pictured with the team’s staff, who gave him the third major strip of his star-studded career.
Born in Sante Fe, Argentina, Messi grew up playing for local club Grandoli and moved to Newell’s Old Boys from the age of six, scoring nearly 500 goals.
Despite being diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency, Messi – who stands at 5ft 7 – continued to play. He was scouted by the River Plate, but they wouldn’t pay for the medical treatment he needed.
Messi was then discovered by FC Barcelona in 2000, just a teenager. He rose through the ranks at Barcelona’s youth academy and proved himself on the pitch, rising from the Catalan side’s C team to its B team within two years and reaching the men’s top-flight team in 2004.
The forward, who plays centrally and on the right wing, made 520 appearances for Barcelona before leaving in 2021, during which time he scored 474 goals.
He holds the record for most goals in the league, the Supercopa de España and the UEFA Super Cup, and the most recorded assists in football history.
Messi left Barcelona to spend two seasons with French league-leaders Paris Saint-Germain, forming a formidable attacking trident with Brazil’s Neymar and France’s Kylian Mbappe.
He topped off a legendary career last year, winning the FIFA World Cup with Argentina and announcing in June that he would be moving to Miami.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will bank money from Adidas shirt sales and Apple MLS subscriptions, while the deal also includes an option that could see him become a part-owner of the club.
Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi makes waves as the newest player for Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami CF at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on July 16.
Lionel Messi speaks to the crowd during a new Inter Miami signing at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, July 16, 2023.
A fan poses as Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi is introduced as the new player of Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami CF at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on July 16.
A fan waves a flag as Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi is presented as the new player of Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami CF at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on July 16, 2023.
Speaking to fans, David Beckham also admitted signing defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets, who played alongside Messi for years at Barcelona.
‘We are also proud to be joined by the one and only Sergio Busquets. One of the most complete midfield players of his generation,’ he said.
Busquets was unveiled to his new fans shortly before Messi left.
‘Hello everyone, thanks for coming,’ Busquets said, speaking to the crowd in English.
“I’m happy to be here in Miami, it’s a blessing to be part of Inter Miami and I want to thank Jorge, Jose, David for making it possible.
‘I am very excited to start training and playing with my teammates and to see you soon.’
Beckham was pictured arriving at the stadium with his wife Victoria Beckham last night.
David cut a dapper figure in a navy blazer featuring the team crest and a pale blue button-up shirt.
His wife, the former Spice Girl, looked chic in a white blazer and black top, while accessorizing with oversized sunglasses.
The couple’s appearance was almost overshadowed by the weather, as heavy rain and a lightning storm hit Miami.
While out on the field, David can even be seen losing his balance with all the cameras in the world.
However, the experienced midfielder managed to stay on his feet with a hand in relief.
This didn’t go unnoticed by George Maas – who co-owns Miami with Beckham – as the owner playfully waved his hand in front of him, pretending to slide along.
Dapper: David Beckham arrives at the DRV PNK Stadium ahead of the introduction of Inter Miami CF forward Lionel Messi at the unveiling event and press conference in Florida on Sunday
Glam: Victoria looked typically chic in a white blazer and black top, while sporting oversized sunglasses
At one point the weather around the stadium threatened to derail the evening schedule
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