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Lionel Messi confirms move to Inter Miami over Saudi Arabia

The Argentine World Cup champion was rumored to be headed to the Saudi club Al Hilal, but has opted to play in the US instead.
Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain during the Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain and Clermont Foot at Parc des Princes on June 03, 2023 in Paris, France.

Lionel Messi said on Wednesday that he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain to play soccer in the United States, ending speculation that he might join other aging superstars in Saudi Arabia.

Messi will sign with Inter Miami in Major League Soccer (MLS), the Argentine confirmed to the Spanish news outlets Mundo Deportivo and Sport. Exact details of the deal were not immediately available. The Athletic reported earlier that there have been talks about providing Messi with revenue-sharing deals with Apple TV, which hosts an MLS streaming service, and Adidas, one of the league’s top sponsors.

Messi had previously been linked to the Saudi soccer club Al Hilal, which reportedly offered him a whopping $434 million per year. The Saudi Pro League is having some success landing the sport’s top stars. Messi’s rival Cristiano Ronaldo signed with the Saudi club Al Nassr in December, while Karim Benzema left Real Madrid to sign with Al-Ittihad earlier this week. All of them are at least 35 and relatively late in their careers.

The MLS is the top soccer competition in the United States and Canada. The league is inferior in talent to its European and South American counterparts. However, its stature has been raised in recent years by other Europeans such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thierry Henry playing there late in their careers.

Why it matters: The news that Messi was planning to sign with Inter Miami elicited strong reactions on social media, with many noting that he opted not to play in Saudi Arabia. The news is seemingly a loss for the Saudi Pro League, which had gained significant momentum after the Ronaldo and Benzema signings.

Soccer journalist Uri Levy said that Messi’s decisions hurts Saudi Arabia’s ambitions in the sport.


Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in sports as part of its diversification strategy. On Monday, the Public Investment Fund announced a privatization plan for soccer clubs in the kingdom. The kingdom is also widely expected to make a bid for the 2030 World Cup. The country's sports footprint is growing relatively fast compared to other Gulf states and amid criticism that the kingdom is using sports to distract from its human rights record, Sam Wendel wrote in a memo for Al-Monitor PRO in December.

Know more: Saudi Arabia scored a major sports coup on Tuesday when the US-based PGA golf tour announced a merger with the Public Investment Fund’s LIV Golf.

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