Canada coach John Herdman calls Lionel Messi coming to North America an "absolute coup" for Major League Soccer.
Messi, who spent the last two years with Paris Saint-Germain, had been linked to Inter Miami CF, a return to Barcelona and a big-money offer to play in Saudi Arabia.
After reports surfaced Wednesday that the move to Miami was a done deal, Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Mas tweeted out a photo of a darkly silhouetted Messi jersey. The Argentine star then confirmed the move himself in interviews with Spanish news outlets Mundo Deportivo and Sport.
MLS then issued a brief statement.
"We are pleased that Lionel Messi has stated that he intends to join Inter Miami CF and Major League Soccer this summer. Although work remains to finalize a formal agreement, we look forward to welcoming one of the greatest soccer players of all time to our league," it said.
Herdman was already celebrating news of the move.
“Well If he was a bit younger, I would have hoped he came to a Canadian club. We'd keep him for five years and get his (Canadian) passport," Herdman said with a smile in a virtual media availability before the Messi move was confirmed. "That would have been awesome."
"But I think MLS is just growing and growing and growing," he added. "Every year you see new teams, better facilities, a better standard of play, a more competitive style of play. We've seen the Italians (Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi) arrive at Toronto. You've seen Messi now, hopefully, coming into a club that he'll transform — the fan base, he'll transform the interest. I think it's an absolute coup for MLS."
The challenge for the league, he suggested, is to provide an atmosphere that will test and motivate such a star to "Bring his best version."
"But we've seen that from (David) Beckham (who played for the Los Angeles Galaxy and is a Miami co-owner). We've seen it from some real top players that have come across here and truly contributed to the league," Herdman said in a virtual media availability Wednesday. "So that's the hope, that's the dream I think for all of us, that he comes and lights up the league like some of the Zlatans (Zlatan Ibrahimovic who played for the Galaxy) have done in their first season."
Added Herdman: "Stadiums are going to sell out … I think people will be buying season tickets now just to see Messi. What an opportunity for this part of the world."
The Argentine star, who turns 36 later this month, has won the Ballon d'Or award as the world's best player a record seven times.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press