The Atomic Flea has landed.
Lionel Messi – considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time – was introduced on a stormy Sunday night at Inter Miami’s new DRV PNK Stadium.
The rain didn’t seem to dampen the excitement of fans or the ownership. There was a party atmosphere at the new pink and gray facility for the reportedly sold out event dubbed “The Unveil” in Fort Lauderdale.
“I am very moved to be here in Miami,” said Messi, wearing a tee shirt and jeans and speaking in Spanish. “This happened so fast. I know that for us it was spectacular to arrive here.”
David Beckham and Jorge Mas – part of the ownership team for Inter Miami – joined Messi on stage and handed him his new No. 10 jersey.
Beckham was an international superstar who joined the MLS with the LA Galaxy in 2007 and 2008. “We are building a special club here at Inter Miami,” he told the crowd. “Like all of you, I can ot wait to see Leo take the field in our colors.”
Mas was emotional, recalling how Miami opened its arms to him and his family when they were Cuban immigrants – he is the chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation.
“This is our moment to change the football landscape of this country,” he said. “We promised this city we would dream, that we would sign the best player in the world – and tonight that dream comes true.”
The arrival of Messi heralds back to 2010 when Lebron James joined the Miami Heat – taking the team to two championships. The Argentine’s arrival – considering his international reach – may even be bigger.
And like James, Messi is already attracting top-tier talent. His former FC Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets was on hand Sunday, joining the team just that day and joining Messi on center stage.
“I’m sure we’re going to have many wonderful experiences,” Messi told the crowd.
Inter Miami will pay the 36-year-old forward reportedly between $50 and $60 million annually including a signing bonus and equity in the Major League Soccer team that will keep him playing in South Florida through the 2025 season.
Messi madness has already taken hold. His likeness is on billboards and on murals. His grocery shopping trip to a local Publix was news. He took photos with fans.
“I’m very much moved to be here in Miami, to be with you,” Messi said. “I want to thank you, all of you, on behalf of my family, for the kindness that you have given me.”
Hours before the introduction, fans were kicking around soccer balls and showing enthusiasm for a team that currently resides in last place despite some inspired play from youngsters like Key Biscayne’s Benjamin Cremaschi.
”It is the best thing for me and my mom,” said Julia Gillman outside the new stadium. “We are both from Argentina so it is really exciting. It is definitely something that needed to happen – especially for this team – to get all the Argentinos here.
But then the Messi introduction almost got upstaged by Mother Nature. Fans and media cowered under the bleachers.
He goes by many nicknames, but Messi’s shorter stature allows him to change direction on a dime and evade opponents, earning him his La Pulga Atómica – The Atomic Flea – moniker.
He is the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner as the world’s best player in a given year. He led Argentina to the World Cup this past December in Qatar.
If all goes to plan, Messi will play Friday in a Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul. That could also be the Miami debut of World Cup winner Busquets.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the Messi signing is a big step forward that MLS is “a league of choice for players, for fans, for partners and ultimately for investors.”
“It’s a real testament to where MLS is and where it’s going in the years ahead,” Garber said “This journey here in Miami has been an epic one.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
ANASTASIA IVANOVA is a junior at the School for Advanced Studies and is part of the Key Biscayne Independent's student journalism program. She earlier attended MAST Academy and was a staff writer for the school newspaper, The Beacon, and loves traveling, appreciating art, consuming and producing writing, and developing a greater understanding of the world.