Lionel Messi captained Argentina to a third World Cup victory in Qatar last year
Lionel Messi captained Argentina to a third World Cup victory in Qatar last year AFP News

It comes as no big surprise that Argentina and Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi has been named as TIME magazine's Athlete of the Year for 2024.

Messi currently plays for Major League Soccer (MLS) side Inter Miami after making the move from Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) back in July. He has since scored 11 goals in 14 games in all competitions, and led the young club to their maiden trophy when they won the Leagues Cup just weeks after his arrival.

The Argentine also extended his record by winning his eighth Ballon d'Or trophy in October. Back in 2022, he captained Argentina to their third FIFA World Cup title, thus completing his quest of winning the biggest trophies both in the club and national team levels.

Massive impact in the sporting landscape of the United States

Since Messi's arrival in the United States, the interest in football (more popularly called soccer there) has skyrocketed. "Lionel Messi this year managed to do what once seemed impossible, when he signed with Inter Miami: turning the US into a soccer country," read an excerpt from the TIME feature.

The demand for tickets has soared, and the amount of media attention has increased exponentially not just for Inter Miami but for the MLS as a whole since the Argentine joined the club. Merchandise sales have also increased, and worldwide viewership has also enjoyed a surge, leading to a massive revenue boost for the league as a whole.

Messi's big decision to head to the United States

Just a few months ago, things looked very different for Messi. Despite enjoying World Cup success with Argentina, he had a disappointing two-year run with Paris St-Germain where he hardly made an impact. Messi admitted that it was a miserable stint at the French capital, and the club's fans quickly also made their feelings known by staging protests against the Argentine towards the end of the 2022-23 season.

It became very clear that he won't renew with the Ligue 1 champions, and expectations were high that he would return to FC Barcelona. However, the Catalans were unable to sort out their financial issues in the two years since Messi was forced to leave, and the highly-anticipated comeback remained unfeasible.

Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham admitted that he was worried that he won't be able to convince Messi to come to Miami due to the player's desire to rejoin his boyhood club. "The one that really worried me was Barcelona. He never got to say goodbye to the fans, or say goodbye to the club"

There was also a strong offer from the Saudi Pro League, where some of Europe's biggest stars have been tempted by eye-watering lucrative offers. Messi admitted that he considered the move, but ultimately decided to head to Miami to "enjoy" the latter years of his career.

"My first option was to return to Barcelona, but it was not possible. I tried to return, and it did not happen. It is also true that later I was thinking a lot about going to the Saudi league, where I know the country and they have created a very powerful competition that can become an important league in the near future," he said.

"It was Saudi Arabia or MLS, and both options seemed very interesting to me."

In the end, Messi chose to join David Beckham's young club, and he and his family are clearly very happy with the decision. He hit the ground running and showed off a masterclass in his debut for the club, something that he was not able to achieve during his move to Paris two years ago.

David Beckham shared how unforgettable it was to watch Messi's free kick in his debut for the club: "I remember getting in the car on the way back, and I said to Victoria, 'I'm not even sure I can drive home.' You couldn't have written it better...It was for the future of the game"

The player himself did his best to make his move seamless both on and off the pitch. He immediately joined the team's chat group and forged great relationships with his new teammates. He shared that if anything, it is the Miami traffic that is proving to be a hurdle to his adjustment.

When asked about giving a message to his fans, Messi simply said that: "We are going to have some very good times. We are going to compete to continue lifting trophies and enjoy ourselves"