Lionel Messi celebrated his game-winning goal for Inter Miami against Cruz Azul - photo via @InterMiamiCF on Twitter

The Magical Inter Miami Debut of Lionel Messi

94th minute. Game tied at 1-1. A packed DRV PNK stadium in Fort Lauderdale is focused on one man as he steps up to the ball 25 yards from the goal. Their new #10 and captain, Lionel Messi.

The record seven-time Ballon d’or winner was unveiled as an Inter Miami player just days before, and the world awaited to see what magic he would bring to a struggling Inter Miami side in his debut against Cruz Azul on Friday. And he did not disappoint.

Simply put, Messi delivered when the pressure was on most. Just like he has his entire career.

La Pulga’s Legacy

Ever since Lionel Messi broke onto the scene for FC Barcelona almost 20 years ago, he was destined for greatness. While with Barcelona, Messi won a whopping ten La Liga titles to go along with four Champions League trophies, as well as six of his seven Ballon d’or’s. After 17 seasons with the Spanish side, Messi departed in 2021 when the club could not afford him anymore. It was a heartbreaking end to a legendary run for the club’s longtime captain and all-time top scorer.

After leaving Barcelona, Messi made his way to the French side Paris Saint-Germain. While PSG won the French Ligue 1 the last two seasons, they ultimately fell short of the Champions League crown. However, Messi cemented his legacy on the international stage.

While Messi was on top of his game, his Argentinian national side had been unable to capture any silverware. With Messi’s international career nearing its end, he took matters into his own hands. In the summer of 2021, Messi helped Argentina capture the Copa America title, securing his first piece of international gold. But he did not stop there. This past winter, Messi led Argentina to the ultimate prize: the World Cup trophy. In capturing the most prestigious title in soccer, Messi laid his claim as the greatest of all time. But he still has more left in the tank.

Inter Miami’s Major Move

With his PSG contract expiring this summer, rumors were rampant about where Messi might end up. For months, it seemed a reunion with Barcelona was inevitable, but the club’s financial restraints made it impossible. Then, there was interest from Al-Hilal of the Saudi Pro League, who made Messi a whopping $1.6 billion offer to join their side. With the Saudi league capturing Messi’s long-lasting rival Cristiano Ronaldo just months ago, it became a possibility that the rivalry would be renewed on a new stage. However, one other offer was on the table: Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami.

Founded in 2018 by legendary superstar David Beckham, Inter Miami became a part of Major League Soccer in 2020. Despite making big-name signings from around the world, the club has struggled to gain traction in the MLS. With the team sitting in last position in the Eastern Conference, they made a big move.

Inter Miami gave Messi a deal through the 2025 worth up to $150 million. The contract includes his salary, a signing-bonus, a stake in the club’s ownership, and potential profit sharing with MLS partners Apple and Adidas. The club also brought in some familiar faces, Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, and former manager for both Barcelona and Argentina Tata Martino.

Messi Makes His Mark

On Friday, Inter Miami hosted Cruz Azul in their first match in the Leagues Cup, a competition between clubs from the MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX. Starting the game on the bench, Messi was subbed into the match in the 54th minute, with Inter Miami up 1-0. Despite Cruz Azul scoring an equalizer in the 65th minute, the game came down to Messi’s free kick in stoppage time. Messi struck the ball with his left foot, sending it right into the top left corner past the goalkeeper.

The crowd of 21,000 in DRV PNK stadium went absolutely wild as Messi celebrated with his teammates. Stars in the crowd such as Serena Williams and Kim Kardashian were in awe of the Argentinian’s strike, while David Beckham was emotional seeing his star signing make a major impact. Post match, Beckham made his feelings known, saying “It’s such a moment for this country,” it’s such a moment for the league. And it’s a very proud moment for us.”

More Messi to Come

Messi and Inter Miami host fellow MLS side Atlanta United in the Leagues Cup this Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, with Messi’s MLS debut set for August 20 against Charlotte FC. With all eyes on him, Lionel Messi has one final goal: to establish Inter Miami as the team to beat in the MLS.

About Max Bernstein

Max Bernstein is a South Florida native who is a Journalism student at the University of Florida. He is specializing in the Sports and Media track, and is currently in his Freshman year at UF.

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