Lionel Messi confirms he will spurn Barcelona and Saudis for Inter Miami in MLS

Lionel Messi confirmed on Wednesday the next, and possibly final, club in his wildly successful playing career, announcing that he will join the Major League Soccer side Inter Miami.

“I made the decision that I am going to go to Miami,” Messi said. “I still haven’t closed it 100%. I’m missing some things, but we decided to continue on the path.”

Messi’s decision to cross the Atlantic is somewhat of a surprise. Many believed he would follow in the footsteps of his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo and sign a lucrative deal with a club in Saudi Arabia.

Related: Inter Miami would be a dubious landing spot for Lionel Messi

Others thought he would rejoin Barcelona, the club where he emerged as one of the greatest players of all time. But on Wednesday Messi explained why an emotional return did not materialise.

“If the Barcelona thing didn’t work out, I wanted to leave Europe, get out of the spotlight and think more about my family,” he said. “I really wanted, I was very excited to be able to return [to Barcelona], but after having experienced what I experienced and the exit I had, I did not want to be in the same situation again – waiting to see what was going to happen.

“I heard that they had to sell players or lower players’ salaries and the truth is that I didn’t want to go through that, nor take charge of obtaining something that had to do with all that.

“If it had been a matter of money I would have gone to Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. It seemed like a lot of money to me and the truth is that my decision was for the other side and not for money.”

In a statement, Barcelona wished Messi good luck in the next stage of his career.

“[Barcelona president Joan] Laporta understood and respected Messi’s decision to want to compete in a league with fewer demands, further away from the spotlight and the pressure he has been subject to in recent years,” read the statement.

So Messi has decided to head to Miami, a city where he already owns property. Inter Miami are part-owned by David Beckham, one of the few footballers who can rival Messi for global fame. The move also represents a publicity coup for MLS as it continues its push to become a major player in US sports. The last time the league attracted a player of Messi’s fame was when Beckham joined Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.

The Athletic reported on Tuesday that MLS has offered the Argentinian a revenue-sharing deal with Adidas and Apple TV+, which broadcasts the league in the US. There have also been reports that Messi, like Beckham, will be offered the chance to own an MLS team when he retires.

Messi is joining a club in flux. Inter Miami are bottom of MLS’s Eastern Conference and fired their manager Phil Neville last week. They still do not have a permanent home in the city, and play at a temporary 18,000-capacity stadium in Fort Lauderdale The team were also disciplined by MLS in 2021 for violating the league’s roster rules. However, fortunes can turn around quickly in MLS, a competition that is designed to have more parity than the European leagues Messi is used to. Inter Miami are six points adrift of ninth place, where they would qualify for an elimination game to make the end‑of‑season playoffs.

Messi’s contract with Paris Saint‑Germain expires on 30 June and the club have confirmed he will not sign a new deal to stay in France. While a return to Barcelona would have been a sentimental choice for the 35-year-old, the club’s precarious financial position all but ruled out a reunion.