The finest player of his generation, and quite possibly the best of all time, Messi would arrive in M.L.S. having received every conceivable honor at the club and international levels: league titles in Spain and France; four Champions League trophies with Barcelona; and the Copa América and, last December, the World Cup with Argentina.
His status as the world’s best player made him an extremely valuable prospect as his contract with his current employer, Paris St.-Germain, ran down. Miami was far from his only option: Messi, 35, eschewed both a putative return to Barcelona and a monumental offer, said to be worth as much as $500 million, to move to Saudi Arabia, which has set out to lure a dozen of the finest players on the planet to the Gulf this summer.
Should the deal be completed, it would be the biggest coup for M.L.S. since it lured Beckham in 2007, when he joined the Los Angeles Galaxy. That deal shifted perceptions of the league’s quality and ambitions around the world; capturing Messi would, if anything, deliver even more attention to the league in the run-up to the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Messi admitted, in his interview, that Miami had perhaps not been his first choice of destination. Speaking to outlets that dedicate much of their coverage to Barcelona, the club where he became the finest player of his generation, Messi made plain that in an ideal world, he would have returned to Catalonia. He “obviously really wanted to return,” he said, and had discussed the idea with Xavi Hernández, the club’s manager, and Joan Laporta, its president.
Ultimately, though, Barcelona’s financial turmoil forced his hand. “I heard they had to sell players or lower salaries, and the truth is that I did not want to go through that,” he said, suggesting that he did not want to be held responsible for forcing Barcelona to adjust its squad simply to accommodate him.