Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Mas says Major League Soccer has “totally changed” following the arrival of Lionel Messi from Paris Saint-Germain.
Messi moved to Miami in July, seven months after inspiring Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar. He has had a profound effect on not just his team – whose form has improved to the extent that they now have an outside chance of reaching the play-offs with Messi unbeaten in his 12 appearances across league and cup – but also the league in general.
Attendances have soared whenever Miami have played on the road, shirts bearing Messi’s name have sold out and subscribers to Apple TV’s MLS season pass have increased by around 50 per cent.
Mas, who owns the club alongside former England and Real Madrid midfielder David Beckham, told El Club del Deportista: “MLS has totally changed. Now, every time we play away from home, the stadiums are full. The reception that Lionel has been given has been extraordinary.
“The game in New York with 30,000 fans, 80 per cent of them shouting Messi’s name…there were Argentina shirts and pink Inter Miami shirts, it shocked me, I didn’t expect that.
“And to see the impact Lionel has had, how interest in the league is increasing and how the world now sets its eyes on the North American League…it’s a turning point. Messi’s arrival will mark a before and after in MLS.”
There have been other big-name players to play in the United States, most notably Pele and Beckham himself. Mas set out on a journey to add Messi to that list and acknowledged it was not an easy task.
“I always aspired to sign Leo,” he added. “Everyone told me I was crazy for thinking he would come to Inter Miami.
“I told [Lionel’s father] Jorge, ‘your son will have the opportunity to create a new legacy because he will be able to change a sport in a country’, and that is something that very few athletes get the chance to do.
“It took four and a half years to convince Lionel and make him decide with his family. I never lost faith.”
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) October 2, 2023
Prior to joining Miami, Messi had been linked with a return to Barcelona, the club with whom he won 34 titles in 16 glittering seasons before an acrimonious departure in 2021.
Barca’s financial position meant it failed to materialise but Mas has promised Messi he will organise a farewell game for the 36-year-old to say a proper goodbye to his adoring Camp Nou crowd.
“Among the promises I made to him was making sure he was able to say goodbye, in the appropriate way, to his home – Barcelona, the place where he grew up,” said Mas.
“Messi’s departure was not pleasant, he could not say goodbye to the club that welcomed him as a child, and the circumstances were not what Lionel wanted.
“I gave him my word that I will do everything possible in the coming years so that he has the opportunity to say goodbye to his fans in Barcelona. Inter Miami will go there or we will arrange some kind of match.”