Barcelona president Joan Laporta told ESPN it was a “strange feeling” to see Lionel Messi in an Inter Miami CF shirt, but he wishes the striker the best in MLS.
Messi, 36, left Barca for Paris Saint-Germain two years ago but the Catalan side tried to re-sign him earlier this summer when his contract with the French side expired.
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Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal also offered Messi a contract, but the Argentina international opted to join Inter Miami, where he 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 how I think most fans see Messi, because most of his career was spent at Barca.
“But we respect his decision and we wish him the best. We want the best for our players. He came to Barcelona as a child, at 14, and he spent 20 years with us. I hope he can be very happy in Miami.”
Messi has already been joined at Miami by former Barca teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, while Luis Suarez has also been linked, although sources have told ESPN the Uruguayan striker will stay at Gremio until at least the end of the year.
Laporta said he understands Messi’s decision to take on a new challenge in the United States even though Barca have financially cleared his potential La Liga return.
“It was very tight,” added the Barca chief. “We had to deal with our financial fair play situation, so we needed time. In the end, we reached an agreement with LaLiga which allowed us to add him to the team.
“But Leo came from a situation in Paris where he was under a lot of pressure. His dad told me he needed a place where he wouldn’t be under pressure and at Barca that wouldn’t be the case at because of the significance of our hero’s return.”
During his 21 years at Barca, Messi became the club’s record appearance holder and top scorer, scoring 672 times in 778 games. He has won four Champions Leagues, 11 La Liga titles and won the Ballon d’Or seven times.
“In Miami it’s different for him, it’s a new league for him, one that’s getting better and Messi can help the development of the league,” Laporta added.
“With Busquets and Jordi Alba too, maybe Luis Suarez. It will be very attractive for the fans in the United States. So he preferred to go to Miami. We respected him and understood his decision.”
Messi made a quick start to life in South Florida, scoring the winning free kick on his debut against Cruz Azul in the League Cup and then adding a brace in a 4-0 win over Atlanta United FC Tuesday.
In California, meanwhile, Barca finally kicked off their pre-season with a 5-3 loss to Arsenal at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood as part of the Soccer Champions Tour they are taking part in.
Their opener against Juventus in Santa Clara was postponed last weekend due to a stomach ache that spread to the whole team.
They are back in action on Saturday when they play the Classic against Real Madrid in Dallas before wrapping up their trip to AC Milan in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
“We lost to Arsenal, but it’s pre-season and we’ll improve,” Laporta said. “Hopefully against Madrid and in our last game in the United States 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 people with people coming from abroad to watch us.
“And training is going very well too. The facilities in Los Angeles are perfect for us. We just had the problem with the virus infection, but we are grateful to be here.”