Head coaches across Major League Soccer anticipated the question during Matchday 18 lookahead press conferences.
What is your reaction to the big news?
It followed what’s captivated the global soccer landscape: Lionel Messi stated Wednesday he intends to join Inter Miami CF and Major League Soccer this summer. He’d leave behind a two-year stint at Paris Saint-Germain, and rather than returning to FC Barcelona or being lured to the Saudi Pro League, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner would head to South Beach six months after helping Argentina win the World Cup.
Wayne Rooney, in no uncertain terms, explained what the 35-year-old forward would bring.
“He's the best, simple as that,” said Rooney, who now leads D.C. United after securing a similar move in June 2018 as a player. “In my view, he's the best player to ever play the game, so that's how he's different. Obviously the fan base around him will be huge and commercially for the league, I'm sure it will be huge as well. It's massive for MLS.
“ … I know MLS has always brought players in, but I think it will do that again. It shows MLS can compete with them leagues who are trying to grow in the world of football.”
Bigger than Beckham?
The potential impact of Messi-to-Miami has been likened to when David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy before the 2007 MLS season. Beckham’s arrival ignited the Designated Player era and occurred when MLS had 13 teams compared to its current 29 clubs. The in-between period has included incredible growth on and off the field, spanning from training facilities and soccer-specific stadiums to burgeoning academies and becoming a bigger participant in the global transfer market.
In some observers’ eyes, Messi’s arrival would surpass the impact Beckham had on fueling MLS’s ambitions.
“It’s the biggest day in probably MLS history, right? It’s the best player that the sport of soccer has ever had in my opinion, for what that’s worth,” said Philadelphia Union’s Jim Curtin. “But it’s a big day for the league, no question about it.
“When you talk about the player, it speaks for itself. He’s won everything everywhere he’s been. It shows that our league is a very attractive one. There’s no problems recruiting the top players to come here.”
Messi has scored an astounding 806 goals in 1,027 career games for Barcelona, PSG and Argentina – plus has won 43 trophies for club and country. Given that illustrious pedigree, LA’s Greg Vanney outlined a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats viewpoint.
“Ultimately, I think the success of it will be determined by how he comes and he performs inside of the league,” Vanney stated. “I do believe that because you've got to come to the league and take it seriously, take it for real, help his team be great, make the players around him great.
“He's got all the qualities and tools. For me, he's the best player in the world. I have huge admiration for what he does and I hope he comes here and lights the league on fire and shows that this league matters just as much as every other league, and he's here to take the game forward and to show our league is moving forward and he can help to move it to another level forward. If that's the case, this will be a huge success and it will be a huge deal.”
A seminal moment
Fittingly, Messi would play for the team Beckham now co-owns. The Herons would also get a player that’s still at the top of his game – he’s just scored 21 goals and dished out 20 assists in 41 games this season with PSG across Ligue 1, UEFA Champions League and cup competitions.
For nearly two decades, Messi wowed fans across Europe. Now, those heartstopping moments would come to MLS stadiums.
“I was really lucky when I was at Manchester City to watch him live in the stadium at the Etihad and for sure he's the greatest player to play in my era, potentially the greatest player to play the game,” said New York City FC’s Nick Cushing.
“I think it's a real privilege for us as a league to have a guy [like him], it's hugely exciting. It is a real marker of the growth of our league, of the level and the competitive nature of our league. We're growing every year.”
Paperwork and contracts must be signed before a formal announcement is made. Yet in the meantime, fans are eagerly awaiting when Messi would debut, buying up Inter Miami tickets for home and away matches, all while the Herons’ social media following skyrockets. He’d be destination viewing on MLS Season Pass as well.
The Messi effect, as Houston Dynamo FC’s Ben Olsen outlined, would be profound on casuals and diehards alike.
“I'm lucky enough to be involved in the league for some time, since '98,” began Olsen. “There are all these moments that are important and whether it's David [Beckham] coming to the league, Thierry [Henry], Zlatan [Ibrahimović] and some of these world-class players, the new stadiums along the way, the expansion over the last 30 years, there's just all these moments that when you're a fan of the league, deep down you feel a real small part of growing the sport in this country, and it's wonderful to see all of them. This one is a whole other level of that.
“Finally the infrastructure in the league is here to support something of this magnitude and on all fronts, it pours gasoline on already a league that's moving very fast and is a destination for players across the world. That will change from a scouting standpoint, it will come from sponsorship, it will change from the quality on the field. It may not be instantly, but it's going to help.”
Help indeed, and potentially transform Major League Soccer as we know it. A BM and AM framework – Before Messi and After Messi – may ultimately be applicable.
“In our sport, there’s not a bigger name than Messi,” said Bruce Arena of the New England Revolution.