After David Beckham and his Inter Miami partners were awarded MLS’ 25th franchise in late January 2018, the man who revolutionized the league as a player for LA Galaxy shared a video message from Lionel Messi on his Instagram account. “Who knows, maybe in a few years you will give me a call,” Messi concluded after congratulating Beckham on the new project. 

As The Athletic’s David Ornstein reported on Monday, that call eventually came, and Inter Miami is now confident in Messi’s eventual arrival.  

Four-year-old social media posts aside, the potential for Messi to move to Miami has only increased with time. In 2020, he told Spanish network La Sexta, “I would like to play in the United States one day, it’s always been one of my dreams.” Messi and his family have made numerous visits to the Miami area, last year staying in nearby Key Biscayne. The appeal of South Florida to someone like Messi is clear: the sun, the lifestyle, the lack of a state income tax in Florida, perhaps slightly less scrutiny than he’s faced in Europe and his native Argentina, plus the presence of large, Spanish-speaking South American communities.

And as much as Messi likes the area, Inter Miami has long been just as interested in him. 

In June 2021, Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Mas told The Athletic, “It’s not out of the question that Lionel Messi will wear an Inter Miami uniform at some point in time. David and I are working very hard at making something like that happen, which I think is not only transformational for Miami, but I think for the league. That will propel a very important discussion among us and the league because I think we have to do everything in our power to facilitate Lionel Messi coming to Miami and coming to the MLS. I will push as hard as I can, personally, in making that happen.”

Messi’s current contract with PSG is set to expire at the end of the 2022-23 season, so the soonest he could arrive in Miami is the summer of 2023, likely after taking some time to rest and recover following a long season that includes the unusual interruption of this month’s World Cup. It would mean jumping into MLS in the middle of its season, which Beckham did with LA Galaxy in the summer of 2007 and Gareth Bale did with LAFC this year. 

But regardless of when it comes, Messi’s arrival in the US would be the latest in what has been a trend of transformational footballers advancing American soccer with their presence, starting with Pele in the 1970s and continuing with Beckham in the 2000s.

No single player in the history of American men’s soccer has had as seismic an effect on the trajectory of the game in this country as Pele. The Brazilian legend famously joined the New York Cosmos of the nascent North American Soccer League in 1975. The Cosmos, backed by the corporate might of media empire Warner Communications, were seeking to do what no other soccer club in American history has ever done: make soccer truly, deeply relevant in this country. For a brief time, it appeared as though they might succeed.