Lionel Messi announced on Wednesday that he would join Major League Soccer club Inter Miami as a free agent after leaving French champions Paris Saint-Germain and rejecting a lucrative contract offer from Saudi Arabia.
Messi, who played his final game for PSG over the weekend, was also linked with a return to Barcelona, but La Liga's financial fair play regulations prevented Barcelona from making a move.
Messi stated in an interview with the newspapers Mundo Deportivo and Sport, "I've decided to move to Miami."
"I still have not closed it completely. A few things are still missing, but we've decided to proceed. If Barcelona did not work out, I wanted to flee Europe, avoid the spotlight, and focus more on my family.
Messi, who guided Argentina to a World Cup victory in Qatar in December and has a record seven Ballon d'Or awards, won Ligue 1 and the French Super Cup in 2022 during his two seasons with PSG.
"After winning the World Cup and not being able to go to Barca, it was time to go to the U.S. league to experience football differently and enjoy the day-to-day," Messi explained.
"Clearly with the same sense of responsibility and drive to succeed and perform well. But with greater tranquility."
The decision is also a major coup for Major League Soccer, which welcomed Messi while noting that details of the formal agreement remained to be finalized.
"The (goat) is coming," the MLS tweeted, substituting a goat emoji for the phrase "greatest of all time."
"Millions of MLS fans from all over the world welcome you, Leo."
A source familiar with the negotiations told Reuters this week that Messi desired to play for a club where he could ultimately have an ownership stake, and his contract is expected to allow him to do so after he retires.
In addition, he will receive a portion of the revenue from Apple TV's MLS Season Pass, which broadcasts league games and will be able to maximize his existing sponsorship agreement with Adidas.
MLS receives a fixed fee of approximately $250 million per year from Apple until it reaches a certain number of subscriptions, after which it will receive a percentage of the subscriptions' revenue.
Given that Messi is the most recognizable soccer player in the world, his transfer to the MLS is anticipated to increase Apple TV's viewership.
The forward was also linked to a move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal after a formal offer was made.
The country of the Persian Gulf has sought to attract the game's top players to its league and was successful in luring Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo to Al Nassr shortly after the World Cup. This week, French striker Karim Benzema joined Al Ittihad.
Messi stated, "If it had been a question of money, I would have gone to Arabia or another country that offered me a lot of money."
Former England captain David Beckham is a co-owner of Inter Miami. He was one of the first major European stars to come to the United States to play in the MLS, and he won the MLS Cup twice with Los Angeles Galaxy.
Messi will have his work cut out for him in Miami, as the club sits at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, six points behind the ninth place, the final spot that would offer them a shot at the playoffs.
In stark contrast to last season, when they finished sixth and qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs, the team fired head coach Phil Neville last week after a dismal stretch of 10 losses and five victories.
Once the crown jewel of European football, Messi has been effectively released by two elite clubs in just two years.
Messi holds numerous records at Barcelona, the club he did not wish to depart and the city he has called home since he was a teenager.
Messi was compelled to leave Barcelona in 2021 due to the club's inability to make it financially feasible to retain his services.
His departure from PSG was of his own accord, as he felt the French club lacked a long-term plan, and fan unrest hastened his departure.
The highs he experienced after Argentina won its first World Cup in 36 years were soon replaced by lows he encountered in Paris.
Even before he could rest on his World Cup laurels, he found himself in the midst of a storm when, for the first time in his illustrious career, his club's supporters turned against him in response to PSG's poor form.
Over the past decade, supporters of PSG, which is owned and financed by Qatar Sports Investments, have become accustomed to winning domestic championships. Last month, they won their ninth championship in 11 seasons.
But the sacred grail, the Champions League, remains elusive following yet another humiliating elimination in the round of 16.