Global soccer icon Lionel Messi is planning to sign with Inter Miami CF, he announced Wednesday.
The star of Argentina's 2022 World Cup championship reportedly is opting to join the MLS ranks over returning to Barcelona or accepting a lucrative offer to play in Saudi Arabia.
Messi, who turns 36 on June 24, officially becomes a free agent when his contract at France's Paris Saint-Germain expires at the end of this month.
Messi confirmed the move in interviews with Spanish publications Mundo Deportivo and Sport.
"We are pleased that Lionel Messi has stated that he intends to join Inter Miami and Major League Soccer this summer," MLS said in a statement earlier Wednesday. "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."
Financial problems at Barcelona reportedly quashed Messi's desire to reunite with the Spanish La Liga club, where he gained worldwide fame from 2004-21.
Saudi Arabia offered a reported $400 million a year to play at Al-Hilal, which would allow him to renew a rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo although in a vastly diminished spotlight from the European soccer scene.
Messi owns property in Miami and has said many times over the past year that he would like to play in the United States.
Terms of an agreement with Inter Miami are unclear at this point, although Messi would almost certainly raise the bar for the highest salary in MLS history. Toronto FC is paying Lorenzo Insigne a record $14 million.
ESPN reported that Inter Miami offered him a minority stake in the club, which is owned by billionaire businessman Jorge Mas, his brother Jose and retired soccer great David Beckham.
ESPN also reported that Messi's deal could include an agreement with Apple TV, which holds the league's broadcast rights. An Apple TV deal would be separate from an MLS contract.
As for the MLS, Messi's arrival would mark the league's biggest splash signing since Beckham joined the LA Galaxy in 2007.
MLS commissioner Don Garber told The Athletic in March that bringing Messi to the United States would be a boon for the league.
"You're dealing with perhaps the most special player in the history of the game," Garber said of Messi. "So when there are rumors of him connected to Miami, that's great. And if it could happen, it would be terrific for MLS, it would be terrific for Messi and his family, and like everything with us, we try to run every opportunity down."
Inter Miami (5-11-0) currently sit last in the Eastern Conference with 15 points. Only New York City FC have scored fewer goals (11) in the East than Miami (15).
--Field Level Media