Lionel Messi has announced he is to join Major League Soccer (MLS) side Inter Miami.
The 35-year-old Argentina forward had been strongly linked with a move to Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal, to join a league which already features Cristiano Ronaldo and now Karim Benzema.
However, with Messi’s two-year contract at Paris St-Germain (PSG) coming to an end this month, the World Cup winner confirmed he was set to head to the U.S.
“I made the decision that I am going to go to Miami,” Messi said.
“I still haven’t closed it 100 per cent. I’m missing some things, but we decided to continue on the path.”
MLS franchise Miami are co-owned by former England captain David Beckham.
The Florida side recently sacked Beckham’s former Manchester United and England team-mate Phil Neville as coach.
They are currently bottom of the 15-team Eastern Conference, but remain a fiercely ambitious club.
Messi had also been linked with a move back to his former club FC Barcelona.
But he confirmed that when that was not set to go through, he opted for a fresh challenge in the U.S.
“If the FC Barcelona thing didn’t work out, I wanted to leave Europe, get out of the spotlight and think more in my family,” he said.
“I really wanted, I was very excited to be able to return (to FC Barcelona), but after having experienced what I experienced and the exit I had, I did not want to be in the same situation again —– waiting to see what was going to happen.
“I heard that they had to sell players or lower players’ salaries and the truth is that I didn’t want to go through that, nor take charge of obtaining something that had to do with all that.”
PSG announced last week that Messi would be leaving and he had reportedly been offered a deal worth 400 million euros (343.5 million pounds) per year to move to Saudi Arabia.
Messi revealed that while his heart may have been pushing him towards a return to the Nou Camp, it was a move which he was not totally in tune with.
He felt it could have left him open to more issues down the line, having had to “walk the bullfight” at the end of his previous stay.
“I also wanted to look for something else and a bit of peace of mind,” Messi said.
“I had offers from other European clubs, but I didn’t even evaluate them because my idea was to go to FC Barcelona.
“If the FC Barcelona thing didn’t come out, analysing it, then (I was) leaving European football and much more (doing so) after winning the World Cup, which was what I needed to close my career on this side.
“Going to live in the U.S. in a different way and enjoying day-to-day much more, but with the same responsibility of wanting to win and always doing things well, but (now) with more peace of mind.”
Messi had talked with FC Barcelona manager and close friend Xavi over a potential return, but said he “spoke very little, once or twice at most” with president Joan Laporta.
“We were very excited, because when something came out we would discuss if he really wanted me to come back, if it was good for the team and for him, and we kept in communication,” Messi said.
“We never even got to talk about the contract. A proposal was passed over, but never a formal, written, signed proposal, because there was still nothing and we did not know if it was going to be possible or not.
“There was the intention, but we couldn’t advance anything, we didn’t even talk about money formally.
“If it had been a matter of money I would have gone to Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. It seemed like a lot of money to me and the truth is that my decision was for the other side and not for money.”
FC Barcelona issued a statement which claimed that the club had “presented” a proposal for Messi’s return which had been desired by both parties.
The club added that they were later informed of the player’s decision to instead head to Miami.
“President Laporta understood and respected Messi’s decision to want to compete in a league with fewer demands, further away from the spotlight and the pressure he has been subjected to in recent years,” the club statement read.
“Both Joan Laporta and Jorge Messi also agreed to work together to promote a proper tribute from Barca fans to honour a footballer who has been, is, and always will be beloved by Barca.”
On its part, MLS welcomed Messi’s decision.
“We are pleased that Lionel Messi has stated that he intends to join Inter Miami and MLS this summer,” a statement from the organisation read.
“Although work remains to finalise a formal agreement, we look forward to welcoming one of the greatest football players of all time to our league.”
In spite of not making a return to FC Barcelona as a player, Messi, a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, intends to eventually settle back in the city with his family.
“Obviously I will like to be close to the club (in the future). What’s more, I’m going to live in FC Barcelona,” he said. “It is one of the things that we have very clear with my wife, my children.
“Hopefully, I don’t know when, but one day I can contribute something to the club and help because it is a club that I love as I always said.
“I appreciate the love I had from people during my career and I will like to be here again, yes.”(dpa/NAN)