Lionel Messi’s announcement on Wednesday of his intention to come to Major League Soccer to play for Inter Miami was one of the most important moments in the history of Major League Soccer and American soccer.
It was also one for which the league was not prepared.
Multiple league and team sources confirmed that MLS and Commissioner Don Garber were not prepared for any public announcement of Messi’s coming to MLS, as first reported by Fox Sports. The league noted this in its own public statement, writing that they were “delighted” that Messi had announced his intention to join Inter, but that “work remains to finalize a formal agreement”.
One week later, the final agreement is still in the works.
No contract between Messi and MLS was signed, or even finalized, and the lack of an agreement had a ripple effect on how the league and Inter Miami promoted Messi’s arrival. It also affected the schedule of the multiple deals being negotiated alongside Messi’s contract, from a new coach to the players who will join Messi in the summer transfer window.
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Part of the reason for this is the complex nature of the deal.
The proposed contract includes an option to purchase an ownership stake in Inter Miami, and part of the deal also requires discussions with Apple regarding revenue sharing on new MLS Season Pass subscriptions. A source familiar with the current negotiations said the Apple deal would be based on revenue paid by new international subscribers. There’s also the compensation structure itself, and the tax implications of how the contract is drafted, as well as things like marketing and image rights. These negotiations come down to subtle levels, such as the entities that own the rights to the Messi name and No. 10 for use in various products, for example.
Due to MLS’ single-entity structure, players sign contracts with the league, not individual teams. As such, Garber has been keeping the other team owners updated on negotiations with Messi.
The MLS summer transfer window opens on July 5. After this point, Messi (and new signings across the league) can be added to rosters and be eligible for selection in official competitions. Messi is currently in China with the Argentina national team, but is rumored to be expected to leave before the team goes to Indonesia on June 19 in order to go on vacation. When he joins Inter Miami he is still very much part of the negotiations.
Sources say there are discussions with the league about Messi participating in the MLS All-Star Game in some way.
the athlete Sources close to the league and D.C. United, who are hosting the event on July 19 at their home stadium, Audi Field, have stated that Messi’s potential debut will be on July 21. But the hope is that Messi will play a part in those celebrations.
A source close to Apple’s league broadcast operations said the tech giant is understandably keen to get Messi involved in some way. The All-Star Game is part of MLS Season Pass, the league’s streaming service on Apple TV+. Sources elsewhere in the league describe that desire as a “no-brainer”.
A source familiar with D.C. United’s All-Star plans says the club has been told that Messi’s involvement in those celebrations in any way is down to the player himself; That source said the club had been told that Messi wanted to make a decision about his involvement after he had taken some time off.
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What remains unclear is exactly what Messi’s participation in the All-Star Game will entail, which is supposed to come before he plays a competitive minute for Inter Miami. A source at DC United, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, said the idea of Messi participating in the league skills competition, which usually takes place the day before the All-Star game itself, had been considered. Another source suggested he might play in the same game, and said they assumed Messi would be a coach or commissioner.
Another option is simply for Messi to appear at the match or the festivities surrounding it, which seems likely, should he participate.
Inter Miami faces its own logistical challenges. Multiple sources familiar with the club’s preparations for Messi say many aspects of the team’s travel – hotels, charter flights and the like – are being re-evaluated. MLS teams currently use charter flights to get to away games, but the comfort level on the planes they use isn’t much greater than the general commercial flights they used before going into a fully leased post-COVID-19 setup.
Everything else is secondary for Messi who formally puts pen to paper in the contract. Meetings between Miami and the league eat up potentially spendable time researching coaching, roster upgrades, and more, but none of it matters until that intended deal is signed.
(Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)