Barcelona president Joan Laporta has told ESPN it is a “strange feeling” to see Lionel Messi in an Inter Miami CF shirt, but he wishes the forward the best in MLS.
Messi, 36, left Barca for Paris Saint-Germain two years ago, but the Catalan side attempted to re-sign him earlier this summer when his contract with the French side expired.
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Saudi Arabian team Al-Hilal also offered Messi a contract, but the Argentina international opted to join Inter Miami, where he has scored three goals in his first two appearances.
“It’s a strange feeling,” Laporta told ESPN of watching Messi play in the United States. “We identify Messi with Barcelona. That’s the way I think most supporters see Messi, because most of his career has been at Barca.
“But we respect his decision and we wish the best for him. We want the best for our players. He came to Barcelona as a kid, 14-years-old, and he spent 20 years with us. I hope he can be very happy in Miami.”
Messi has already been joined in Miami by former Barca teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, while Luis Suarez has also been linked, although sources have told ESPN the Uruguay striker will remain at Gremio until at least the end of the year.
Laporta said he understood Messi’s decision to take on a new challenge in the U.S., even if Barca had cleared his possible return with LaLiga financially.
“It was very close,” the Barca chief added. “We had to manage our financial fair play situation so we needed time. At the end, we reached an agreement with LaLiga that authorised us to add him to the squad.
“But Leo was coming from a situation in Paris where he was under a lot of pressure. His father told me that he needed a place where he won’t be under pressure and at Barca that would not be the case because of the meaning of the return of our hero.”
During his 21 years at Barca, Messi became the club’s record appearance holder and top scorer, scoring 672 times in 778 games. He won four Champions Leagues, 11 LaLiga titles and won the Ballon d’Or on seven occasions.
“In Miami, it is different for him, it’s a new league for him, one that is improving and Messi can help with the developing of the league,” added Laporta.
“With Busquets and Jordi Alba as well, maybe Luis Suarez. It will be very attractive for the fans in the United States. So he preferred to go to Miami. We respected it and understood his decision.”
Messi has made a fast start to life in South Florida, scoring the game-winning free kick on his debut against Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup and then adding a brace in a 4-0 win over Atlanta United FC on Tuesday.
In California, meanwhile, Barca finally kicked off their preseason with a 5-3 defeat against Arsenal at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood as part of the Soccer Champions Tour they are taking part in.
Their opening game against Juventus in Santa Clara was postponed last weekend because of a stomach bug which spread across the squad.
They are back in action on Saturday when they play the Clasico against Real Madrid in Dallas before closing their trip against AC Milan in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
“We lost against Arsenal, but it’s preseason and we will get better,” Laporta said. “I hope against Madrid and in our last game in the U.S. we can be better.
“This tournament is fantastic. There are full stadiums, the fans are great and everything is so well organised. Last night we played in front of 70,000 with people coming from abroad to watch us.
“And training is also going great. The facilities in Los Angeles are perfect for us. We just had the problem with the viral infection, but we feel thankful to be here.”