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SPORTS | 07-06-2023 21:47

Messi spurns US$400-million Saudi offer to join Beckham’s Miami

Bringing Messi to the United States will have major repercussions for Miami and Major League Soccer, as the city gears up to be one of the World Cup’s host cities in 2026. 

Lionel Messi plans to join Major League Soccer club Inter Miami, turning down a deal from Saudi Arabia that would have paid him US$400 million annually.

“I’ve made a decision to go to Miami,” Messi said in an interview with Mundo Deportivo. “I still don’t have it 100 percent closed, I’m still missing a few things, but we’ve decided to continue down that path.”

The Argentine superstar is being offered profit-sharing agreements with Adidas and Apple, The Athletic reported, citing people familiar with the transaction. Messi could also get a stake in Inter Miami, according to ESPN, joining current owners David Beckham and the Mas family. 

Apple and Inter Miami didn’t respond to requests for comment. Adidas declined to comment. 

Messi, 35, plans on “living the US League in a different way and enjoying day to day much more,” he said in the interview. 

Messi’s move to Major League Soccer would be a significant blow to Saudi Arabia’s global sports ambitions, driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Kingdom has been trying to further add star power to its domestic football league after Cristiano Ronaldo joined a Riyadh-based team. The country’s Public Investment Fund has financed the LIV Golf league, which is merging with the PGA Tour, while the sovereign wealth fund has purchased Premier League club Newcastle United, quickly transforming the underachieving team into a serious force in English football.

Bringing Messi to the United States would also have major repercussions for Miami and Major League Soccer, as the city gears up to be one of the World Cup’s host cities in 2026. 

It would mark the first time Messi has played club football outside Europe in his storied professional career. The World Cup winner starred for Barcelona since he was a teenager, winning multiple league titles and the Champions League. He left to play for Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, and said he chose joining Inter Miami over a comeback to the Catalan team.

For Apple it would strengthen its football strategy. The company forged a US$2.5-billion 10-year deal with Major League Soccer to show games on its TV+ platform. And one of the streaming service’s most popular TV series, Ted Lasso, follows a fictional Premier League team coached by an American.

For Adidas it would be a coup at a time the German brand is struggling after the collapse of its Yeezy franchise following its canceled partnership with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. 

Adidas has lost considerable market share in the US in recent years to Nike Inc and smaller brands like Hoka. Football is a bright spot for the company in the United States, which is the world’s single largest sports market. 

The German company extended its contract with the MLS earlier this year, a move that Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Gulden has called “very, very, very important.” Adidas has ambitions of combining football with fashion and music to create a sort of "soccer street culture” around the world on par with what’s seen in basketball.

“That’s why it’s important to protect our number one position in soccer in the big markets,” Gulden said last month on a call with analysts.

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by Brandon Sapienza, Tim Loh & Felipe Marques, Bloomberg

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