Fans carry a cardboard cutout of Lionel Messi outside DRV PNK Stadium before the star was presented to supporters following his move to Inter Miami of Major League Soccer (Eva Marie UZCATEGUI)
It rained on his parade but Lionel Messi arrived at Inter Miami’s stadium on Sunday to greet thousands of fans who had turned out after a huge thunder storm to welcome the Argentine World Cup winner.
A massive tropical downpour forced organizers to delay the start of “The Unveil” as fans took cover or waited out the rain in their cars.
The event started around two hours later than originally scheduled with delirious fans chanting Messi’s name as the lights dimmed on the venue.
Inter Miami, the bottom club in Major League Soccer, confirmed on Saturday that the seven-times Ballon d’Or winner had signed a deal that will keep him with the club until 2025.
The former Barcelona great opted to join Miami, co-owned by former England midfielder David Beckham, after his contract with French club Paris Saint-Germain expired last month.
Messi arrived in Miami on Tuesday with his family and has caused a sensation locally. Fans flocked to the airport to try to catch his arrival and photos of him shopping in a local supermarket went viral.
He was scheduled to hold a press conference on Monday but the club said Sunday that had been postponed. No explanation for the decision was given.
Messi could make his debut for the club on Friday against Mexico team Cruz Azul in the new Leagues Cup, which features teams from both MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX.
However on Saturday, the team’s new Argentine coach Gerardo Martino urged “patience” after watching his side’s winless streak extend to 11 games.
“We look to the future with hope (given) that the best player in the world will play for our team, but also with the patience that we have to have so that he can get in good physical shape and can play at the right moment,” he said.
Latin musical performers and DJs were scheduled to provide the build-up to Messi’s first appearance in front of the club’s fans at their temporary, DRV PNK Stadium, about an hour’s drive north of downtown Miami.
The stadium, on the site of the old home of the now defunct Fort Lauderdale Strikers, was not completely full as the event got under way with fireworks.
Inter are planning their own purpose-built stadium, Freedom Park, in Miami but it is not expected to open until 2025.