Lionel Messi and Inter Miami are in Saudi Arabia to continue their around-the-world preseason tour (2024)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Inter Miami played six preseason matches last season. Most were behind closed doors with few people watching, all took place in Florida and the biggest news probably came when some fans prematurely set off fireworks and got ejected from the exhibition-season opener.

It’s wildly different this season.

Such is life in Lionel Messi’s world.

The soccer icon and Inter Miami have a two-game tour of Saudi Arabia this week, the first match on Monday against Al-Hilal and the second match coming Thursday against Al Nassr — one where Messi may share the pitch again with longtime rival and fellow great Cristiano Ronaldo, assuming the Portugal star has recovered enough from a calf injury to play.


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The club already has played two exhibitions this year — one in El Salvador, one at Dallas’ Cotton Bowl — and has matches in Hong Kong and Japan still to come after the Saudi swing is complete. It’s basically an around-the-world, big-crowd, big-money, bright-spotlight batch of preseason games for Inter Miami, which instantly became a global brand when Messi announced last summer that he was joining the Major League Soccer club.

“It’s incredible,” said DeAndre Yedlin, the Inter Miami defender who was captain until Messi arrived. “Obviously, it’s not just one guy, but I think most of the focus is on Leo. So, it shows just kind of the influence that he’s had on the game and has had on the game. People want to know what he’s doing. People want to know anything that he’s involved with, what’s going on. It’s great for the league. It’s great for us.”

Inter Miami is in Saudi Arabia because of Messi, plain and simple. There is no bigger name in the game than the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner and captain of reigning World Cup champion Argentina, and Messi — who had an offer to play in Saudi Arabia, which he turned down to join MLS and come to Inter Miami — is a Saudi ambassador to help promote tourism.

He was even suspended once by one of his former clubs, Paris Saint-Germain. for making an unauthorized trip to the country. But Inter Miami not only understands the value of having Messi, it welcomed this massive preseason stretch in advance of an MLS season that starts Feb. 21.

“Having the possibility of seeing Messi up close in this circ*mstance is really very valuable,” Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said in Spanish last week before the team departed on its 13 1/2-hour charter flight to Riyadh. “You have to see how many times these people are going to have this possibility.”

The financial benefit of Inter Miami and Messi playing in Saudi Arabia hasn’t been revealed. It’s reasonable to think it’s a big number, enough to help the MLS club offset at least some of Messi’s salary — he’s on a 2 1/2-year contract that will pay him around $150 million — and what the team spent to land the likes of Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez to play with him.

The Saudis have made clear that they’ll spend big for what they want; some have used the term “sportswashing " when it comes to how the kingdom has spent billions bankrolling LIV Golf and attracting Formula One, boxing, horse racing, even BMX racing and professional wrestling. Much of this comes with great criticism. Messi’s fame hasn’t taken a hit from his association with the Saudis. Such is his power.

“What I love about Saudi,” Messi says in a marketing campaign for the country, “is that I always discover what I never expected.”

The trip itself speaks to how different everything for Inter Miami has become. The club faced Florida International University with no fans allowed in one of its preseason matches last season; this season, it’s facing Ronaldo with the soccer world watching for a result that won’t even count. The team had less than 1 million followers on Instagram; it has 16 million now, many of them no doubt driven there by the half-a-billion followers Messi has on that site.

An around-the-world trip for a whole new world makes sense.

“It’s a bit different and I think the upside to that is we get to experience some different teams, different kind of competition,” Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender said Sunday. “We’re looking at it as a challenge in a way to kind of develop as a team, exposing ourselves to different teams, different leagues. So, I think for us it’s still new, but I think everybody has a good feeling around it.”


AP soccer:

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami are in Saudi Arabia to continue their around-the-world preseason tour (2024)


How long will Messi play for Miami? ›

Inter Miami says Messi's contract, a 2 1/2-year deal that runs through the 2025 season, is worth about $150 million. The MLS figures do not account for any additional agreements with the team or its affiliates, or for any performance bonuses.

What is Messi net worth? ›

Messi is the second highest-paid athlete in the world as of 2023, and has earned an estimated $1.15 billion in his career so far, according to Forbes. Messi owns a multi-million dollar real estate portfolio, holds lucrative brand partnerships, and even owns a hotel chain.

What number will Messi be in Miami? ›

What shirt number does Messi wear at Inter Miami? Messi has traditionally preferred the number 10 shirt at Barcelona and with Argentina, although that did change at PSG when he was allocated the number 30 jersey. So, it was no surprise when Inter Miami awarded Messi with the number 10 shirt, and rightly so.

How many matches did Messi play for Inter Miami? ›

Lionel Messi's MLS Stats

In all competitions, Messi scored 11 goals in 14 Miami appearances, as well as converting three spot-kicks in penalty shootouts.

Will Messi play for Miami in 2024? ›

Lionel Messi is healthy again. Inter Miami plans to keep him that way for Copa América 2024.

Is Messi still playing for Miami 2024? ›

The 36-year-old Argentina star has played every minute of Miami's three MLS matches so far in 2024, as well as in its Concacaf Champions League draw at Nashville SC on Thursday, and assistant coach Javier Morales hinted on Saturday that Messi would be rested ahead of the return leg against Nashville.

Is Ronaldo a millionaire or billionaire? ›

However, Bernard Arnault of French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH saw his wealth increase 37%, boosting him to the first place on the list. Among the newly minted billionaires are sports and entertainment stars, including Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rihanna.

What is Ronaldo's net worth? ›

As of April 2022, he had 849 million. In March 2021, he passed Brazilian legend Pele's goal tally; a hat trick against Serie A foe Cagliari pushed him up to 770 goals in all competitions. He switched teams in August 2021, moving from Juventus to Manchester United, where he previously played from 2003 to 2009.

Who is the richest footballer? ›

The world's richest footballer is Faiq Bolkiah who has a whopping net worth of over $20 billion. Born into a wealthy home, Bolkiah boasts a wealth greater than the likes of Portuguese international Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina's Lionel Messi combined.

What is Messi favorite color? ›

There's been two opinions as touching Messi's favorite color. A good percentage assume his favorite color is Red while other claim it's Blue.

How many kids does Messi have? ›

Messi and Roccuzzo, who were childhood friends and later reconnected in 2005, welcomed their first son, Thiago, in 2012. Their second son, Mateo, arrived in 2015, followed by their third son, Ciro, in 2018. The athlete later told FC Barcelona that fatherhood changed his entire perspective.

How much does Messi jersey cost at Inter Miami? ›

Lionel Messi Inter Miami jersey cost, price

The regular price for Inter Miami's replica jerseys are $124.99. Those looking to get their hands on the authentic home and away shirts can purchase for $194.99. You can also currently find Messi Argentina jerseys and older Messi PSG jerseys, which are on sale.

Where will Messi play in 2024? ›

All eyes are on Lionel Messi and Inter Miami as the global superstar competes in his first full season in MLS in 2024 — and this week two of those eyes were from our Andy Edwards as Messi hit the Midwest. If you thought Messi-mania hit hard in late 2023 after he arrived in Miami, 2024 is going to be off the charts.

Who is better Messi or Ronaldo? ›

Who is better Messi Or Ronaldo? Ronaldo has scored a record number of international goals and appearances, but Messi has won more Ballon d'Or awards (8). Messi has spent most of his playing career in Spain and France, while Ronaldo has played in Portugal, England, Spain, and Italy.

Who has more goals Messi or Ronaldo? ›

Messi is more than 50 behind Ronaldo when it comes to total career goals (821 vs. 875). But until Saturday the two players had been level on 713 in terms of non-penalty goals. Ronaldo now has 714, including 168 with his left foot.

Where will Messi play in 2025? ›

Inter Miami will introduce the Argentina superstar on Sunday night at its stadium in Fort Lauderdale. Lionel Messi has finalised his deal to join Major League Soccer, and after years of planning and pursuing, Inter Miami has landed a global icon.

Why didn t Messi play with Miami? ›

The reasons for the former Barcelona star's absence were two-fold - he took a knock in the CONCACAF Champions Cup game against Nashville three days earlier and has also been dealing with a minor hamstring issue since the preseason tour of Asia.

What games is Messi playing in 2024? ›

Lionel Messi tracker: Schedule, how to watch Inter Miami CF in 2024
Oct. 2 at Columbus CrewMLS Season Pass, FS1 (7:30 pm ET)MLS regular season
Oct. 5 at Toronto FCMLS Season Pass (7:30 pm ET)MLS regular season
Oct. 19 vs. New England RevolutionMLS Season Pass (6 pm ET)MLS regular season
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