- Argentine superstar Lionel Messi spurned a highly lucrative offer from Saudi Arabia to instead ply his trade with U.S. Major League Soccer club Inter Miami.
- The blockbuster announcement came after months of intense speculation about whether the 35-year-old might return to his beloved Barcelona, the Spanish club he relocated to join as a teenager.
- "If it had been a question of money, I would have gone to [Saudi] Arabia or elsewhere where they offered me a lot of money," Messi said.
Argentine superstar Lionel Messi, widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all time, has spurned a highly lucrative offer from Saudi Arabia, choosing to instead ply his trade with Major League Soccer club Inter Miami.
The blockbuster announcement came after months of intense speculation about whether the 35-year-old might return to his beloved Barcelona, the Spanish club he relocated to join as a teenager but reluctantly left in 2021. It always appeared unlikely, however, given the club's longstanding problem of getting to grips with La Liga's Financial Fair Play rules.
It was widely thought that Messi, who led Argentina to victory at last year's World Cup, would opt to play for Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia after parting ways with French champions Paris Saint-Germain.
Unexpectedly, Messi on Wednesday said he'd chosen the Miami franchise.
"I made the decision that I'm going to go to Miami," Messi revealed in an interview with Spanish news outlets Mundo Deportivo and Sport, according to a translation.
"I still haven't closed it 100%. I'm still missing a few things, but we decided to go ahead. If Barcelona didn't work out, I wanted to leave Europe, get out of the spotlight and think more about my family."
Messi said he felt the time had come to join the U.S. league "to experience football in a different way and enjoy the day-to-day."
He added: "Obviously, with the same responsibility and desire to want to win and to always do things well. But with more peace of mind."
The deal means that the global soccer icon will not follow longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo and French striker Karim Benzema in a move to Saudi Arabia.
The Mideast Gulf country, which is rapidly becoming a major player in the sports world, achieved something of a coup just 24 hours earlier with the announcement of a shock merger between its breakaway LIV Golf circuit and the U.S.-based PGA Tour.
Messi's rejection of a reported $400 million-a-year deal, a colossal sum even by soccer's eye-watering standards, deals a blow to Riyadh's ambitions to attract the sport's biggest players to its top league.
Last month, Messi's father and agent, Jorge Messi, denied speculation that his son was poised to move to Saudi Arabia after French media reported it was a "done deal."
It came after PSG suspended Messi, who last year was unveiled as a tourism ambassador to the oil-rich country, for making a trip to Saudi Arabia and missing a training session as a result.
"If it had been a question of money, I would have gone to [Saudi] Arabia or elsewhere where they offered me a lot of money," Messi said.
One of Inter Miami's owners, Jorge Mas, preceded Messi's announcement by sharing a photo of his silhouetted jersey, fueling speculation of the player's imminent arrival to Florida's South Beach.
"We are pleased that Lionel Messi has stated that he intends to join Inter Miami and Major League Soccer this summer," MLS said in a statement, adding that some of the finer details still needed to be ironed out.
"Although work remains to finalize a formal agreement, we look forward to welcoming one of the greatest soccer players of all time to our League," the league said.