Ten biggest stars to play in the USA as Messi joins Inter Miami

Lionel Messi is the latest superstar to take his talents to the United States after announcing he will join David Beckham’s Inter Miami… Mail Sport takes a look at how ten legends of the game fared in America

  • Lionel Messi will play in the MLS after announcing a move to Inter Miami
  • He follows in the footsteps of some of the greats who made a move to the USA 
  • Mail Sport takes a look 10 legends of the game who made the move to America

Six months on from his World Cup triumph, Lionel Messi has announced that he will join David Beckham’s Inter Miami side in the MLS. 

Despite winning his second Ligue 1 title in a row with PSG, the Argentine World Cup winner has decided to play outside of Europe for the first time in his club career. Messi has decided ‘to live football in a different way’ and will play outside of Europe for the first time in his club career. 

Messi had lucrative offers from Saudi Arabia and was also linked with a return to Barcelona, but ultimately it was Inter Miami that won the battle for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.

In doing so he follows a star-studded list of players who decided to take their talents to the United States.  

Mail Sport takes a look at how ten of the biggest stars in the history of the game fared when they made the same move as the Argentine superstar.

Argentine World Cup winner Lionel Messi has announced he will play for Inter Miami

He will play for the MLS side who are owned by a football legend, who also made a big move to play in the United States during their own career


Pele, who is argued to be the best player of all time, is the only player on this list who never played for a club inside Europe. 

He spent the majority of his career at Brazilian side, Santos, where he joined at the age of 16 and scored an incredible 643 goals.

He won the top division in Brazil six times as well as the prestigious Copa Libertadores in 1962 and 1963. 

After the 1974 season (his 19th with Santos) – he went into a semi-retirement where he only played occasional matches for the Brazilian side.

However, he made the switch to  New York Cosmos in 1975 to play in the North American Soccer League (the highest club-competition in North America between 1968 and 1984). 

Pele won the 1977 Soccer Bowl with Cosmos, but a greater legacy is that he pioneered an influx of footballing stars to make the move to North America, such as Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff.

Pele was the first big name player to take their skills and play in the United States

David Beckham 

David Beckham made the move to America in 2007 when he joined MLS side LA Galaxy. 

The former England captain had already achieved a successful career having won six Premier League titles, a Champions League (as part of a famous treble in 1999 with Manchester United), and a La Liga title with Real Madrid during the ‘Galactico era’.

Beckham’s time in America, which was interrupted with loans to AC Milan, saw him win two MLS Cups in 2011 and 2012. 

Most notably, Beckham’s transfer to LA Galaxy included a provision which provided him with the option to purchase an MLS expansion franchise at a fixed price of $25m (£20m), and hence Inter Miami CF was established in 2018.

All that has led to where we are today with Messi set to play for Beckham’s MLS outfit. 

David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy back in 2007 from Spanish giants Real Madrid

Beckham – now owner of Inter Miami – is bringing Messi (left) to play for his struggling team

Thierry Henry 

The World Cup winning French international joined New York Red Bulls in 2010 and played in the MLS until 2014. 

Having won two Premier League titles (including an invincible title with Arsenal in 2003-04) and being a part of the famous Barcelona team to win the sextuple in 2009, Henry is considered to be one of the greatest players of his generation.

Surpassing David Beckham as the highest-paid player in the MLS, Henry scored 52 goals in 135 appearances for the New York side but failed to win the MLS Cup, with his best effort coming in 2010 when the Red Bulls reached the quarter-finals.

Henry returned to the MLS in 2019 as he became manager of Montreal Impact and helped them reach the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, before stepping down in 2021 to return to his family in London.

Thierry Henry spent four years in the MLS after joining from Barcelona back in 2010

George Best 

A maverick of his era, George Best had numerous spells in America, playing for Los Angeles Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and San Jose Earthquakes. 

Undoubtedly, Best’s most successful part of his career came at Manchester United in which he scored 179 goals and won the European Cup and the Ballon d’Or – then known as the European Footballer of the Year award – in the same season (1968). 

He flourished during his time in America, scoring 29 goals in 61 appearances for the Aztecs and was also named the North American Soccer League’s best midfielder in his second season. 

He scored seven and 21 goals for Fort Lauderdale Strikers and San Jose Earthquakes respectively, during a time in which Best also moved to Hibernian, Bournemouth and the Brisbane Lions in Australia.

George Best pictured with Pele when the Man United legend played for the Los Angeles Aztecs

Johan Cruyff 

Another player who is regarded as one of the greatest of all time made the move to America in multiple spells. 

At club level, Cruyff is most famous for spearheading the era-defining Ajax team which won three European cups on the bounce between 1971 and 1973, whilst personally winning three Ballon d’Ors during that time. 

Financial troubles meant Cruyff had to come out of retirement and it was the Los Angeles Aztecs who offered Cruyff a profitable deal in 1979. 

He repaid them by scoring 15 goals and winning the Player of the Year award. He also had a brief spell at the Washington Diplomats before going back to Holland where he returned to Ajax and retired at Feyenoord.

Johan Cruyff played for the Los Angeles Aztecs and the Washington Diplomats in the States

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The confident Swede moved to LA Galaxy in the 2018-19 season, where he took the MLS by storm and scored a remarkable 52 goals in just 56 appearances. 

In a 24-year long career, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played for some of Europe’s elite clubs, including: Ajax, Juventus, Barcelona and Manchester United. 

The prolific striker has gone onto score over 500 goals throughout his club and country footballing career. 

In 2018, Ibrahimovic was selected for the MLS All-Star Game and also featured in the MLS Best XI in what was an extraordinary breakout season. 

He matched this feat in 2019, where this time his side reached the MLS Cup Playoffs, but narrowly lost in the semi-finals. Zlatan returned to AC Milan in 2019 and eventually announced his retirement from football at the end of 2022-23 season.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 52 goals in 56 appearances during his time with the LA Galaxy

Frank Lampard 

Frank Lampard had enjoyed his entire career in England up until his decision to leave for America and play for MLS side New York City FC in 2015. 

Lampard made his debut for West Ham in 1996 where he went onto make 187 appearances. 

It was at Chelsea where he made his career though by winning three Premier league titles, a Champions League as well as becoming Chelsea’s all-time leading goal scorer.

After a season at Manchester City, Lampard moved to New York City FC in 2015, taking them to the MLS Cup Playoff semi-finals. He announced his retirement following the expiration of his contract with the New York team.

Frank Lampard helped New York City FC reach the semi finals of the MLS Cup in 2016

Franz Beckenbauer 

World Cup and European Championship winner, Franz Beckenbauer, was one of the first European football stars to make the move across to America. 

He did so in 1977 when he signed for New York Cosmos, where he won the Soccer Bowl three times in four years (1977, 1978, 1980). 

Nicknamed ‘Der Kaiser’, Beckenbauer is one of the greatest defenders to have played the game as shown by his distinguished club and international career, which saw him win the European Cup three times in a row between 1974 and 1976 with Bayern Munich. Beckenbauer ended his career at New York Cosmos in 1983 after returning from his two-year spell at Hamburger SV.

Franz Beckenbauer pictured with the Soccer Bowl in 1978 with the New York Cosmos

Steven Gerrard

It was seemingly impossible that Steven Gerrard would ever play for another club other than his beloved Liverpool. 

However, he did move to LA Galaxy at the end of his 17-year career at Liverpool in 2015. Gerrard was one of the greatest midfielders in the world during his playing career and this was exemplified when he led Liverpool to their first European Cup in 20 years during an iconic comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final. 

He was also vital in securing a cup treble for the Reds in 2001. After back-to-back playoff losses with LA Galaxy, Gerrard announced his retirement from football in 2016 having played 39 times for the American side in the MLS.

Steven Gerrard spent one year at LA Galaxy before announcing his retirement back in 2016

Wayne Rooney 

Wayne Rooney burst onto the footballing scene when he made his debut for Everton aged just 16. 

Rooney went onto become Manchester United’s all-time leading goal scorer with 253 goals having also won the Champions League and five Premier League titles. 

After a brief return to Everton, Rooney joined D.C. United in 2018 where he made an immediate impact and took them to the MLS Cup Playoffs. 

He had a total of 25 goals in 52 appearances for the Washington side before leaving in 2020. 

Rooney’s time in America was not over though as he returned to the Washington side as head coach in the summer of 2022 following an eventful managerial spell at Derby County.

Wayne Rooney played for D.C. United – a team he returned to manage in the summer of 2022 

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