Lionel Messi is a generational player whose name is uttered in hushed tones alongside Pele. The final jewel in his crown was leading Argentina to World Cup championship in 2022. After establishing his legend with Barcelona and recently playing a difficult two years for Paris Saint-Germain, the 36-year-old Messi signed on with Inter Miami CF. The global fanfare over this move eclipses Miami part-owner and soccer legend David Beckham’s move to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.
Immediate impact in Miami
Messi’s first appearance for Miami was the MLS-Liga MX Leagues Tournament where came off the bench to kick a stoppage penalty kick goal. He went on to score 10 goals and an assist in seven appearances during Miami’s tournament win. His production went down to scoring just once twice assisting during the six remaining games in the MLS regular season. Still, the team and their star are now front-runners in the 2024 season, having lured Barcelona legends Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez as well as a cadre of talented young South Americans who want to play with the maestro.
The team finished the season without its star, who had a hamstring injury in September during one of Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers. Still, his impact was undeniable. Miami was a cellar dweller that was third from the bottom in goals scored before Messi, and returned to earth during the final two months of the season after his injury.
Impact on MLS
Messi’s cultural impact is hard to overestimate. The fact that Lebron James made a point of being at Messi’s Miami debut speaks volumes. Patrick Mahomes retweeted video of Messi’s first Miami goal saying “Wild man!” and using a goat icon. Apple TV streamed all of Messi’s games as part of its sports package.
From a financial standpoint, the MLS game could change too. Messi’s contract is listed as $20.45 million, making him the highest paid player in the MLS, but there is additional financial incentives putting the deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 and $60 million per season. Miami’s payroll is the highest in the league at $40-plus million, as opposed to some other smaller clubs having less than a quarter of that amount – the average MLS salary is $53,790 before incentives, endorsements and other revenue streams. While the current financial caps are expected to remain in place in 2024, that could change thanks to Messi. If the league wants to shed its lower-level status, it will need to pay big money to get the biggest soccer stars in their prime (or near it).
If and when this financial shift happens, Messi and his crew will likely be its driving force. League owners and officials will look at the numbers generated in Miami and realize that there is a market for star-studded teams. It’s a long ways to match the Premier League, but the U.S.’s large and changing market could make it a reality some day.