In a wide-ranging interview on brand-new podcast Offside with Taylor Twellman, Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas broke down the long, often stressful negotiations that ended with the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner putting pen to paper on a historic deal through the 2025 MLS season.
Just a half-year removed from lifting the 2022 World Cup with Argentina, Messi had high-profile suitors across the globe fighting for his signature as his contract with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain expired over the summer. While Miami faced monetary (Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal) and sentimental (former club FC Barcelona) hurdles, there were other elements that made South Florida the ideal destination for the game’s biggest star.
"We're competing for the best player in the world with the powerhouses of global soccer and with endless money that we cannot compete with," Mas explained to Twellman. "So, I had to try to find what makes Lionel Messi tick. What can we offer that someone else can’t?"
In the end, Miami scratched Messi’s competitive itch by offering him the chance to blaze a new trail for soccer in the United States. The lure of helping to revolutionize the game also attracted fellow Barcelona legends Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, with both Spaniards following La Pulga’s path under new manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino – who coached all three superstars at the LaLiga giants.
"In this country, Lionel Messi has the opportunity to change the sport," Mas said. "If he would have stayed at PSG, wasn't gonna change the sport. If he returned to Barcelona, either. And going to Saudi wasn't gonna change the sport there."
Mas, along with brother José and fellow co-owner David Beckham, began reaching out to Messi’s camp several years ago, setting up a string of in-person meetings in such far-reaching destinations as London, Barcelona and the player’s birth city of Rosario.
However, it was Argentina’s pre-World Cup training camp at Inter Miami’s facility in September 2022 that helped Mas convince Messi that MLS was the perfect landing spot for him.
"I was at the facility every day, and I had an opportunity to talk to Lionel extensively," Mas said. "I asked him, ‘What are your aspirations? What are your dreams?’ Right? Like, ‘What do you want?’"
In the end, Messi wanted Inter Miami’s project, although he waited until early June to announce his intention to join the squad before his contract was finally made official on July 15. Those months of waiting were pure torture for Mas, he now concedes.
"I asked Lionel at the time, ‘And Lionel, you know when did you really make a decision,'" Mas said about a recent conversation he had with the Argentine legend.
"And he told me, he goes, ‘No, really, Jorge, when you and I were together in late September, early October last year, I was really geared towards going to Miami.’ And I'm sort of thinking to myself, ‘Oh, my god, I could have saved nine months of tremendous heartache.'"
That heartache has transformed into bliss, with Messi having the immediate and massive impact expected from a player of his stature. In just two Leagues Cup appearances (one start), the No. 10 has three goals and one assist – including a stoppage-time, free-kick golazo against Cruz Azul that got his Miami career off to a magical start.
According to Mas, Messi and his fellow superstar arrivals are here to make soccer history, not cash in on their global fame.
"And the one thing that I have said, and I will continuously say to all the naysayers of the league, 'Oh, it's a retirement league. People come to end their careers here.' I couldn't disagree more, because we're gonna get the great Messi, the great Busquets, and the great Alba," Mas stated.
"I mean, Lionel Messi is a competitive beast. What I've seen in the last week, just in small little details and examples of things that he's done with his teammates at the training center is amazing. [We] have high expectations, but mine, so far, in this very short time period of interacting with him, I've been blown away."
Mas expects to see plenty of beast-mode performances from Messi as he gets acclimated to his new club and lifestyle. In addition to Leagues Cup, there's the final stretch of the MLS regular season, with the last-place Herons hoping to make a late push towards the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. They'll also face Supporters Shield-leading FC Cincinnati in the US Open Cup semifinals on Aug. 23.
Beyond that, Miami's managing owner is also intent on arranging a possible match in Barcelona so his star attraction can reunite with his beloved culé fans.
"Hopefully Lionel Messi can say his proper goodbye. He deserves his correct goodbye there, yes," Mas said. "And I will do everything in my power in order to facilitate, and help him do that because he’s deserving of that."