Before Messi makes his planned debut in Inter Miami's July 21 match against Mexico's Cruz Azul, the team has prepared a slate of events to welcome him to South Florida, including the grand event dubbed "The Unveil" on Sunday, July 16, where Messi is expected to be formally introduced to fans.
In the meantime, Messi has been spotted around town enjoying a certain freedom of movement that he likely wouldn't enjoy in more soccer-obsessed sections of the globe.
The former FC Barcelona ace went shopping this week with his family at a Miami-area Publix, hauling away breakfast cereals and taking a few photos with fans. He was seen casually pushing a shopping cart around Publix employees in their trademark green shirts.
"I pray Miami locals let him keep doing this and not harass him," one Twitter user wrote. "As long as he gets to do this, he’ll stay in America and hopefully keep playing."
Messi got groceries at Publix!— Tactical Manager (@ManagerTactical) July 14, 2023
He is officially a Florida Man pic.twitter.com/NHiro5KmUa
Another user quipped, "Publix may just be too expensive even for him."
After Messi arrived in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, the soccer star dined with his family at Cafe Prima Pasta, an intimate, hardwood-lined restaurant that's been a staple in Miami Beach for 30 years. As he left the restaurant, fans crowded around him, and one cried, "Bienvenido a Miami, Leo!"
Messi did not appear fazed when a man landed a kiss on his cheek as he made his way down the street outside the restaurant behind his wife.
One online observer noted that the media attention and fanfare surrounding the soccer legend's arrival bode poorly for his stated wish to step out of the spotlight by moving stateside.
🚨😭| A fan kisses Lionel Messi as he leaves a restaurant in Miami.— CentreGoals. (@centregoals) July 13, 2023
"So his wish to lead a life without being a centre of attention hasn't...really worked out, has it?"
Messi shocked the soccer world last month when he announced he would be signing with David Beckham's Major League Soccer squad, turning down more than $425 million from Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal.
He played for France's Paris Saint-Germain for the last two years after FC Barcelona let him go in 2021.
Messi decided to take his talents to South Florida thanks to an enticing offer that reportedly includes revenue-sharing agreements with Apple, which owns the worldwide broadcasting rights for MLS, and with Adidas, the league's exclusive jersey supplier.
While the specifics of the deal have yet to be released, Sportico reported the 36-year-old's "two-and-a-half year deal is worth up to $150 million from his salary, signing bonus, and equity in the team."
The prolific goal scorer is a seven-time winner of the Ballon d'Or, which is awarded to the world's best soccer player each year, and a ten-time champion of the Spanish league La Liga. As captain of the Argentina national team, he won the 2021 Copa América as well as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Messi attended training and met with his new Inter Miami teammates on July 13.
"The Unveil" ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, July 16 at 8 p.m., to be followed by a marquee press with Messi and club owners Jorge Mas and Beckham the next day. His first scheduled game, the match against Cruz Azul, is part of the Leagues Cup, a tournament that pits U.S. soccer teams against teams from Mexico's Liga MX.
Since Messi announced he would be joining Inter Miami, tickets for home games at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, which previously cost as little as $30, skyrocketed to more than $1,000 apiece. In response to the hype and high demand for tickets for Messi's debut, the City of Fort Lauderdale agreed to expedite the permitting process so the stadium can add 3,200 more seats. The stadium currently holds 18,000 spectators.
Messi will have some familiar faces joining him on his new journey in the MLS. His former coach with Barcelona and the Argentina national team, Gerardo "Tata" Martino, was recently hired as Inter Miami's new head coach. Messi's former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba also inked deals with Inter Miami.