Who wins in Messi's MLS move, and Saudi Arabia's multibillion-dollar plan

Each week, Luis Miguel Echegaray discusses the latest from the soccer world and shares his opinions, whether you agree with them or not. From standout performances, what you might have missed and what to keep an eye on in the coming days, LME has a few things to say.


Lionel Messi is coming to America

This is huge.

To call Messi's move to MLS and Inter Miami a monumental moment for America's soccer landscape is to undersell it. His arrival will undoubtedly be a catalyst for the sport's popularity in the country and accelerate viewership ahead of the 2026 World Cup when the U.S., Canada and Mexico host.

When David Beckham arrived in 2007 to the Los Angeles Galaxy, he catapulted the league's popularity while simultaneously introducing more commercial and team control (the designated player rule was created because of him) at a time when growth and exposure was essential. Messi's arrival will make Beckham's move to L.A. look like Dietmar Hamann to Bolton Wanderers (sorry Dietmar, didn't mean to throw shade). My point is that Messi -- whose announcement alone is already making a significant impact (see Inter Miami's ticket sales and social media followers) -- will influence so many factors in regard to the sport's growth in the U.S. This wave is only getting bigger.

I am going to use a few of my "Onsides" today to explain the different factors of the Argentinian's move to South Beach, but in conclusion of this particular segment, Messi in Miami is a win for the overall exposure of the sport and everyone benefits, except Barcelona president Joan Laporta and whoever was in charge of writing the team's statement in response to Messi's move.

Messi, wife Antonella and their family win

The other talking point of Messi's arrival to Miami is that their family can finally balance Leo's demanding schedule, the growing Messi brand and the continued objective of delivering for a few more seasons, all while doing it in a city that can culturally facilitate the entire process. As a Spanish-speaking South American with family in Europe, it's important to understand that cultural and social acclimation can be difficult. When I left Peru for England, I was overwhelmed by many aspects of English life.

For Messi and his family, it won't be as challenging. But still, moving to another continent can be daunting for a family. I don't care how much money is thrown around, it's still difficult. Enter Miami, the Latin American capital of the world. The family already knows the city and owns property in South Beach. The language barrier won't be an issue (there are stores in Miami with signs that say, "We speak English") and many of their friends and family are constant visitors, making it a perfect place to continue Messi's next chapter.

Here's the biggest selling point, however, and one I have talked to many overseas MLS players about over the years. The pressure of playing and dealing with European, English and South American sports media can be too much to handle. Especially for Messi, whose life is a constant headline.

"After winning the World Cup and not being able to go to Barca, it was time to go to the league in the United States and live football in a different way and enjoy my day-to-day," Messi told Mundo Deportivo and Sport regarding his announcement. "Obviously with the same responsibilities and desire to win and to always do things well. But with more peace."

Peace is the operative word. Messi wants to be happy. He wants his family to be happy. Anyone who knows Miami well will tell you that you don't necessarily associate peace with the city in south Florida, but his point remains. The pressures are different.

MLS and Inter Miami also win

When Beckham arrived at the Galaxy -- essentially as the second chapter of MLS' growth and evolution (the first chapter was its debut in 1996) -- the league had 13 teams. His arrival exploded attendance numbers at Home Depot Center and elevated the league to new heights. Granted, this took time, but his introduction also introduced the DP role and forever changed the salary restrictions in MLS.

Part of his arrival agreement was also the opportunity to purchase a franchise (except New York City) for a fixed price of $25 million. The choice? Inter Miami. Fast forward to the present and MLS now has 29 teams with the 30th (San Diego) landing in 2025. Inter Miami was the 25th back in 2020 and three years later, Beckham's friend Messi is on his way.

Apple, the league's main distributor, gambled on a global strategy with MLS and Messi's arrival now adds the exclamation point of marketable exposure. Adidas, the league's kit partner, also wins in what should be unprecedented shirt sales. Just for context, PSG sold more than a million Messi-printed shirts in their first season and that number is going to be low compared with Inter Miami's expectations. Their ticket sales and the current Fort Lauderdale-based stadium will be a problem in terms of handling demands, and as I write this, Inter Miami's Instagram account has grown from 1 million to 6.7 million followers, within the first 48 hours of Messi's announcement.

There are also talks of Sergio Busquets joining as well as other reputable, albeit aging, stars such as Jordi Alba. Time is not necessarily an issue but it's also not a commodity. Beckham had to wait until his fifth season with the Galaxy to win his first MLS Cup, and Messi probably doesn't have that long (he turns 36 this month), but the hope is to strengthen the team sooner rather than later. It won't be easy or quick, since Miami sit bottom of the table and don't have a coach.

Regardless, Messi's arrival is a victory for other clubs in the league as his introduction impacts other possible transfer targets. More players from all over the world will want to come to the league. Before Messi, MLS was already healthy as it has a core of young Latin Americans including young Argentinians (Thiago Almada, Emanuel Reynoso, Julian Carranza) as well as Europeans (Lorenzo Insigne, Xherdan Shaqiri) and big Mexican names (Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez).

Now, MLS has Messi. This is how a league becomes powerful.


Can Inter block Man City's treble?

The Messi telenovela made us forget that there's a tiny, trivial thing called the Champions League final on Saturday. The imperial Man City, genius manager Pep Guardiola and his team of superstars, notably the Norwegian goal machine Erling Haaland, are hoping for history against Internazionale with the chance of a treble after winning the Premier League and FA Cup.

Let's begin with the fact that I don't see anything less than a Man City victory. This team is just too good. Even when they're not good, they're good. Even when they're down on their luck during a match, all they need is a moment. So do I think Simone Inzaghi's resilient, stubborn Inter can get something here? No. I don't.

I don't want Man City to win. It's too much. It's overwhelming to think that this is an omnipotent team, one built out of proverbial titanium. Yes, I'm jealous of their grandiosity. I'm jealous of their almost perfection and honestly, I don't think I have gotten over Jack Grealish's exit from Aston Villa to City. I can't shake off these charges of breaches of financial fair play, either.

Pep is Thanos, the squad represents his infinity stones and by Saturday night, the world will be theirs. At least for a few years.

Why we need to talk about Saudi Arabia's intriguing and controversial master plan

Thank God Lionel Messi chose MLS because honestly, the Saudi Pro League was about to have its own lunch, eat it and then take over the whole restaurant. After Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival at Al-Nassr -- combined with the Public Investment Fund's majority takeover of Newcastle United in 2021 and the more recent LIV Golf-PGA Tour merger -- we knew that this league and the nation were ready to make a continued statement of sporting dominance.

Along came Karim Benzema, N'Golo Kante, the ludicrous offer to Messi and other players such as Luka Modric, Busquets and more. What's next? A bid for the 2030 World Cup is undoubtedly in the cards. From a footballing perspective, I don't know if this plan will work because the Chinese Super League and early stages of MLS taught us that aging superstars alone can't build a power league. You need much more. That's the next step.

Then there's the other, difficult question outside of football. What does it all mean from a social perspective? From a political one? Is this blatant sportswashing getting out of control? Or are we being culturally ignorant to a league and culture we know little about but love to criticize? Or do we do just that and take head-on Saudi Arabia's record on human rights violations and oppression of the LGBTQ+ community and women?

There is also the perspective from the Saudi Arabian people, whose population is young. 70% are under 35, and Saudi Arabia's aim is to attract more tourists to the country while generating a stronger economy. The leaders, like those in Europe and America, want to solidify their economic prosperity.

But I'm just going to tell you this. Sportswashing succeeds when we let it go. There is a clear plan to expand the sporting industry thanks to the Saudis' prodigious wealth, but at the same time it is inside a society that limits freedom of speech and imposes shocking punishments, such as executions, on those who break the law.

Of course, we live in a hypercritical world and also one that pushes whataboutism. The point is to keep having these conversations and not to lecture but to learn and progress.

Tweet of the week

Give this kid all the flowers. He even had time to throw shade at Spurs.