Lionel Messi unveiled as Inter Miami player in front of crowd of thousands | Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi followed in the footsteps of Dwyane Wade, Dan Marino and LeBron James on Sunday as he was unveiled as Miami’s latest sporting superstar.

Messi is in the twilight of his career, and is unlikely to match the achievements of those three stars during his time in Florida, but he comfortably equals them in pedigree. His first official appearance as an Inter Miami player – he announced his decision to join the club in June – was televised live, and took place in front of thousands of cheering fans at Fort Lauderdale’s DRV PNK Stadium. There was a slight delay as one of Florida’s familiar summer storms pounded the area before the Argentinian took to the stage to roars of appreciation from the packed stands and a firework display in the skies above the stadium.

“I’m very moved to be here in Miami,” Messi told the crowd in Spanish, a language spoken by around two-thirds of the local area’s population. “I want to thank you for the kindness and love that you have given me. This has happened so fast … I’m anxious to train and compete. Our objective is to be here and win. I’m sure we’re going to have a wonderful experience.”

Messi’s contract ties him to the club until the end of the 2025 season, and will pay him between $50m and $60m a year. The deal also includes a signing bonus and a stake in the team. He is expected to make his debut for his new team on Friday against Mexico’s Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup.

Although the 36-year-old is past his prime, he is one of the greatest football players of all time. After a wildly successful career at Barcelona, where he won a haul of Champions League and domestic titles, he joined Paris St-Germain where he struggled compared to his best years in La Liga. However, he cemented his legacy last year, when he led Argentina to victory at the World Cup. Messi has scored 715 goals in 885 club games and won the Ballon d’Or, the most prestigious individual prize in football, a record seven times.

Inter Miami are part-owned by David Beckham, one of the few footballers who can rival Messi for global fame. The move also represents a publicity coup for MLS as it continues its push to become a major player in US sports with the US co-hosting the World Cup in 2026. The last time the league attracted a player of Messi’s fame was when Beckham joined Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.

“There will always be a before and after Lionel Messi,” said Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas before his new signing took to the stage.

Fans gather for the arrival of Lionel Messi as an Inter Miami player
Fans gather for the arrival of Lionel Messi as an Inter Miami player. Photograph: Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier on Sunday, Inter Miami announced they had signed Messi’s former Barcelona teammate, Sergio Busquets. The 35-year-old captained Barça during a golden era for the club, during which he won La Liga nine times and captured three Champions League titles. He also lifted the 2010 World Cup with Spain, for whom he won 143 caps.

“This is a special and exciting opportunity that I’m very excited to take. I’m looking forward to this next step in my career with Inter Miami,” said Busquets, whose contract lasts through the 2025 season. “I was impressed by the club when I came with Barcelona last year and now I’m happy and ready to represent the club myself. I can’t wait to help bring the success that this ambitious club strives for.”

The next few weeks may be a comedown for Busquets, Messi and new Inter Miami coach Tata Martino, who was also at one point the pair’s manager at Barcelona. They join a club that sit bottom of MLS’s Eastern Conference, last won a league game on 13 May and still do not have a permanent home. However, fortunes can turn around quickly in MLS, a competition that is designed to have more parity than the European leagues Messi is used to. Still, Inter Miami are 12 points adrift of ninth place, where they would qualify for an elimination game to make the end‑of‑season playoffs. The project looks like a long-term one.