Fans in Florida welcome global soccer star Lionel Messi to Inter Miami
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One of the world's all-time greatest soccer players, Lionel Messi, is now playing in the United States. A sold-out stadium in South Florida welcomed Messi to Major League Soccer's Inter Miami, and not even for a game - it's just a meet and greet. For Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Mas, it was the culmination of a dream.
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JORGE MAS: Today, a new journey and a new chapter starts. There will always be a before and after Lionel Messi.
INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Allen knew Miami before and now knows Miami after. Greg, good morning.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: What was it like to be at this event?
ALLEN: Well, quite a scene, as you can imagine. The place was just packed with fans. About every second person was wearing a Messi No. 10 jersey. The whole event was delayed substantially, though, when a big thunderstorm and downpour came through. But these are devoted fans, and relatively few left the stadium. Club owner Jorge Mas and his partner, former star player David Beckham, were rained on as they introduced Messi, but Mas clearly wasn't feeling it.
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MAS: And tonight, we're doing this Miami style in the rain. This is holy water. (Speaking Spanish).
ALLEN: Messi received his Inter Miami No. 10 jersey, and he thanked the fans for their warm welcome in Spanish. He said, I'm sure we're going to have many wonderful experiences.
INSKEEP: How hard was it for this team to lure the greatest player?
ALLEN: Well, you know, Miami and Jorge Mas worked for years to lure him here. You know, he's widely acclaimed, as you know, as the greatest player in the game today. He had all kinds of offers. He's from Argentina, began playing for Barcelona at 16. Over two decades, he broke all kinds of records and numerous titles. Last year's World Cup, he led Argentina with his spectacular play and took home the title, his first ever. And then he was in France. But then he - for two years. But he surprised a lot of people when he said he decided to take the offer to come to the U.S. and play for Inter Miami and Major League Soccer.
INSKEEP: OK. So he turned down other offers that might have been more lucrative, you said. How much is he making?
ALLEN: Well, it's hard to say because it's complicated. The team owners said the team is going to pay him $50- or $60 million a year, depending on, you know, inducements. But he also has deals with Adidas and Apple TV. He'll also reportedly receive an equity interest in the team. But part of the lure of coming to Miami is the city itself and the culture, the Latin culture. Messi and his family have vacation homes here already. He made a big splash on social media over the weekend when he went shopping with his kids at a public supermarket. So that endeared him to people.
INSKEEP: Well, OK. Well, it's good that you've got the Publix, but I'm thinking he's a competitive guy. He wants to win. Can he win an MLS championship?
ALLEN: Well, probably not this year. Along with Messi, Miami also signed two other star players and his former coach at Barcelona. But Messi's joining a club that, right now, is at the bottom of the standings. Even so, fans don't care. Tony and Dina DesRois said they didn't believe it at first when they heard Messi was coming to Miami.
TONY DESROIS: Because he's still, you know, at - playing at a very high level. And usually, historically, you know, MLS clubs don't get guys that are still, like, in that part of...
DINA DESROIS: Their prime, yeah.
DESROIS: ...That part of their career. So hearing that he was going to come here, it was a lot of disbelief at first.
ALLEN: You know, like a lot of people, they think this will be a big lift for the growth of soccer in the U.S. Messi's first game in a Miami jersey will be on Friday when they go against Mexican team Cruz Azul.
INSKEEP: Going to be a lot of excitement in Miami.
INSKEEP: Greg, thanks so much.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Greg Allen.
(SOUNDBITE OF JACKIE MITTOO'S "DARKER SHADE OF BLACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.