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  • Schuyler Beltrami

Lionel Messi to Play for Inter Miami, Ending Tumultuous Time in Paris

(Photo: Wix Media)

On Saturday, June 3rd, Lionel Messi, the Argentine footballer widely regarded as the best in the world, took to the field at Paris' Parc des Princes. The match, a league encounter between Paris Saint-Germain and Clermont Foot, held little significance. PSG had already secured their 11th league title, and Clermont, a club from Clermont-Ferrand, had secured a spot in the top half of the table, just outside the European tournament qualification zone. Nevertheless, the match became a bittersweet occasion for the Parisian fans who had made the short metro ride to witness their beloved club, one of Europe's most popular teams. Moments before kick-off, it was announced that Lionel Messi, who had spent two seasons with PSG, would be playing his final match in a PSG kit that day. The 35-year-old forward, having spent the first 17 years of his senior career at Spanish giants FC Barcelona, made the move to Paris after financial constraints led to his departure from Barcelona. The transfer to the French capital was not without controversy from the outset. PSG, known for its perpetual drama in European football, had been relentlessly pursuing Messi since rumors of his departure from Catalonia surfaced. With Neymar and Kylian Mbappé already forming one of the best attacking duos globally, PSG saw Messi as the missing piece to not only sustain their dominance in France but also potentially clinch the coveted Champions League trophy. Amidst enthusiastic celebrations, PSG's historic signing made his debut at the Parc des Princes in the autumn of 2021. However, the addition of the world's greatest player to one of the most formidable offenses did not have the immediate impact anticipated by PSG fans. While they comfortably clinched the French Ligue 1 title with a 15-point lead over arch rival Olympique Marseille, their journey to secure the club's first Champions League trophy stumbled early on. Finishing second in their group, one point behind Manchester City, PSG progressed to the Round of 16, where they faced Real Madrid. Following a 1-0 victory in Paris, the tie shifted to the Spanish capital, where a hat trick by Karim Benzema eliminated PSG with a 3-2 aggregate score. A sudden collapse in Madrid resulted in the sacking of head coach Mauricio Pochettino at the end of the season. As the second year of the Messi experiment began, PSG appointed Christophe Galtier as the new coach, and it appeared that the team was back on track. Dominating the French Ligue 1 and finishing in a tie for first place with Benfica in their Champions League Group Stage matches, PSG seemed destined to compete for the ultimate prize in European football. However, following a one-month break due to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, during which nearly 10 PSG starters participated, the team appeared fatigued, lacking composure, and endured a series of poor performances in their domestic league, notably suffering a loss to Lens at the beginning of January. The first major disappointment of the 2023 calendar year came with a loss to rivals Marseille in the Coupe de France, eliminating PSG from France's most prestigious championship. However, this loss paled in comparison to their elimination from the Champions League's Round of 16 for the second consecutive year. Facing German giants Bayern Munich, widely considered the strongest team in the competition, PSG suffered a 3-0 aggregate defeat, failing to score in either leg and experiencing an early exit from the tournament once again. While PSG secured the Ligue 1 title this season, it was viewed as the bare minimum expectation for the team, and Galtier's departure at the end of the season confirmed this notion.

Throughout the latter half of the 2022-23 campaign, the relationship between Lionel Messi and the Parisian fans turned sour. Messi's arrival in Paris in 2021 was seen by PSG fans as a validation that the world's greatest players wanted to play for their club. Despite PSG often being labeled a "fake club" sustained by Qatari oil money, the signing of the global football superstar signaled their arrival among the elite in football. Messi's number 30 jersey sold out quickly, and PSG's social media following skyrocketed overnight, as Messi's fans from around the world instantly became PSG supporters. However, the "Era of Good Feelings" between players and fans rapidly deteriorated as the team's on-field performance failed to match the talent on paper. The true rift between Messi and the Parisian fans emerged after the World Cup, when the team's results began to decline. Many fans directed their frustrations towards the global superstar, who seemed unconcerned about the team's position in the standings, continental success, or engaging with the fans. It became an open secret that Messi would leave Paris at the end of the season. Over the past two months, despite being one of PSG's top performers, Messi faced consistent boos from home supporters, particularly from the PSG ultras, who demanded significant changes within the team and a renewed focus on sporting success rather than merely financial gain. While neither Messi nor PSG confirmed his departure until just before PSG's final home match against Clermont, it was an inevitable outcome. Despite his consistently high level of play, Messi's perceived signs of aging and his general disinterest in PSG's culture doomed the Messi experiment from the start. Videos highlighting Messi's lack of defensive effort, failure to contribute to the offense, and reluctance to make smart plays with the ball circulated more on PSG internet channels than videos showcasing his goals and precise passing. Fans began scrutinizing and expressing dissatisfaction, expecting the 35-year-old "GOAT" to perform at the same level as his prime years at Barcelona.

As Messi's time in France drew to a close, speculation arose regarding his next destination. While many fans dreamt of a reunion with Barcelona, financial constraints from the club and reluctance from La Liga made that prospect unlikely. Realistically, only two options remained: Saudi Arabia or the United States. The Saudi Professional League, the highest-ranked league in Asia, had recently made significant financial efforts to attract highly renowned European talent such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. One Saudi club even offered Messi up to 400 million Euros, a deal that was ultimately rejected. Instead, Messi will join Inter Miami, one of the newest clubs in Major League Soccer (MLS), in the fall. Inter Miami, owned by English soccer legend David Beckham, structured a unique deal to secure Messi's services. Through partnerships with Adidas and Apple, Messi will receive a portion of the revenue generated from match tickets, Adidas merchandise sales, and new subscribers to the MLS's recently launched streaming platform on Apple TV+. There is also an option for Messi to become a partial owner of Inter Miami upon his retirement. Despite the evident gap in quality between Barcelona or PSG and Inter Miami and the impossibility of winning another Champions League trophy, the deal with Miami sets the stage for the first chapter of Messi's post-football life. It benefits both parties mutually. Messi and his family already own a home in Miami, and it is one of his preferred holiday destinations. The deal provides him with a stake in North America's fastest-growing professional sports league, which includes clubs in the United States and Canada, instantly making Messi the league's standout player. For Inter Miami and the MLS, acquiring the world's most famous footballer, still close to the peak of his abilities, enhances their brand and attracts a new set of fans from around the world, dispelling the long-standing notion that the MLS is a retirement league for Europe's washed-up veterans.

After securing his first World Cup trophy in December and experiencing a tumultuous two years in Paris, Messi appears prepared for a more relaxed end to his playing career, enjoying the pleasant weather of South Florida while solidifying his legacy and financial security for years to come.

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