A penny, or perhaps several hundred million dollars, for the thoughts of the former Real Madrid president Ramón Calderón.
He was famously at the front of a rather long queue of naysayers in 2007 who appeared affronted by David Beckham’s decision to join Los Angeles Galaxy rather than remain among football’s traditional aristocracy.
As well as the offer of a new two year contract at Madrid, Beckham controversially rejected interest from both Milan clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham for a deal with Major League Soccer that prompted Calderón to sulkily dismiss the 31-year-old as “an average cinema actor living in Hollywood”.
Sixteen years on and, with Lionel Messi poised to join Beckham at Inter Miami, the brilliance of what sports analyst Joe Pompliano now calls “one of the greatest sports deals of all time” continues to reap dividends.
It also stands as a reminder to anyone, in any walk of life, of the value of long-term calculations in immediate and pressurised situations.
While the headlines back in January 2007 focused on Beckham’s salary, and innovative commercial tie-ins with the revenues that he would help generate, the deal’s genius was a clause that initially attracted only peripheral interest.
It said that Beckham would have the option, whenever he retired, to purchase an MLS ‘expansion’ team at a fixed rate fee of $25 million. It was 2.5 times more than Toronto had paid that same year for its own MLS entry and, with no certainty on the location, a clause of questionable future worth.
Messi was still a teenager back then but, fast forward to 2023, and football’s ‘GOAT’ finds himself joining Beckham in Florida at a club called Inter Miami that only played its first match three years ago.
And the worth of that club? Estimates in January stood at almost $600 million but, add in Messi and the prospect of a new stadium, and that figure rises to $1 billion. Or, to put it another way, a 40-fold (and seemingly growing) increase on that once hypothetical clause in Beckham’s contract.
It should be stressed that Beckham’s actual stake in the club is now believed to stand at around 25% per cent and he is listed by the club as a co-owner with Florida billionaires Jorge and Jose Mas. Messi may also take some equity as part of this week’s deal but, according to at least one well-placed industry source, Beckham’s franchise option remains the best of his many commercial deals.
Speaking on The Joe Pomp Podcast, Pompliano estimated that Beckham’s 2007 MLS move has already earned him more than $500 million and, while he describes it as a “win-win for David Beckham and the league”, he says that “the reality is that he was the true winner”.
Like so many of Beckham’s wins, it was also a testament to his always exceptionally dogged self-belief. He had arrived in the USA before a personality’s ‘reach’ could be tracked so precisely on social media but, with the guidance of his shrewd 19 Entertainment management team, backed himself to grow interest and inspire other stars to follow.
Average MLS attendances are 40 per cent up now on when Beckham arrived, but success was not instant and it took LA Galaxy until 2012 to win the first of their back-to-back MLS titles.
When Beckham then exercised the option to buy a franchise, various stadium hold-ups meant that Inter Miami was only founded in 2018 and did not play a game until 2020. The move for Messi was evidently also long in the making.
The Argentinian had posted a congratulatory video to Beckham when Inter Miami was born five years ago, saying, “Who knows, maybe in a few years you can give me a ring”.
There were also reported moves for him in 2021 when he first left Barcelona. Beckham and Messi were then pictured together earlier this season at PSG’s training base, a meeting that was followed by effusive public praise.
“I love Leo for many different reasons,” Beckham told ESPN Argentina. “I love him because he’s a great father. I love him because he’s a great personality. But I think what everybody loves about him is the way he plays the game. He plays the game with passion. He plays the game free.”
Mutual appreciation, however, would never purely be enough. The Messi family’s familiarity with Miami has been a big pull and, rather like Beckham back in 2007, the deal is also understood to be full of unusual clauses, not least in respect of revenues generated by the MLS’s broadcast partners Apple and kit sponsors Adidas.
With a World Cup coming to North America in 2026, the wider hope is that Messi’s stardom will propel American ‘soccer’ to even greater heights. And, should that happen, Beckham – the pioneer player turned owner – will only see the value of that 2007 negotiation increase further.