Lionel Messi could spend the latter days of his career at Inter Miami in Major League Soccer – at least, the club's co-owner is "optimistic" such a deal could be arranged.

Messi's future has been shrouded in uncertainly for the best part of a year, with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner attempting to force a departure from Barcelona last August.

While that did not come to fruition, with Messi unwilling to drag the club through the courts in an attempt to exercise an apparent get-out clause, his future has been a constant source of speculation through 2020-21 due to his contract expiring at the end of June.

Barca president Joan Laporta said this month that contract discussions were going well, with Messi seemingly happier at the club since the October resignation of Josep Maria Bartomeu and the previous board.

Although a move to Miami would seem unlikely at this juncture regardless of Messi's relationship with Barca, Jorge Mas, co-owner of the MLS side, sees no reason why an agreement would not be possible in the future.

"I am optimistic Messi will play in an Inter Miami shirt because I think it will complete the legacy of the greatest player in our generation and will meet with the ambitions of the owners of Inter Miami to build a world-class team," Mas told the Miami Herald.

Former Real Madrid, Manchester United and England star David Beckham is among the others to own a share of the MLS franchise and also serves as its president.

Mas says he and Beckham have certain ambitions regarding the calibre of player they want to see in Florida, and someone of Messi's reputation fits the bill.

He added: "David and I have been working really hard, we have aspirations of bringing the best players here and Messi is a generational player, arguably the best player of all time."

Inter Miami have been hit with a record $2million fine and other sanctions after violating MLS' roster and salary rules following the signing of France international midfielder Blaise Matuidi.

Co-owned by former Manchester United, England and Real Madrid star David Beckham, Inter Miami lured Matuidi from Serie A champions Juventus to the United States for their inaugural season in 2020 – the World Cup-winning star teaming up with Gonzalo Higuain after the club used targeted allocation money (TAM).

But MLS deemed Inter Miami were not roster compliant in March – meaning the team effectively had four designated players last season rather than the three allowed.

Following an extensive investigation on Friday, Inter Miami's violations were found to include the incorrect roster categorisation for Matuidi and Andres Reyes – who should have occupied a designated player slot. The violations also included undisclosed agreements that resulted in the underreporting of salary budget amounts for players Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Nicolas Figal and Julian Carranza.

As a result, Inter Miami – along with the stiffest fine in league history – had a reduction of $2,271,250 in allocation dollars for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, while managing owner Jorge Mas was fined $250,000 and former sporting director Paul McDonough received a suspension through the 2022 campaign and he subsequently departed Atlanta United.

"The integrity of our rules is sacrosanct, and it is a fundamental principle of our league that our clubs are responsible for adhering to all league regulations," said MLS commissioner Don Garber.

"Our rules will not be compromised. These sanctions reflect the severity of Inter Miami's violations, should encourage complete cooperation by all parties in future investigations, and will serve as a deterrent for clubs from violating roster rules."

The investigation also found no wrongdoing on the part of Inter Miami owners Marcelo Claure, Masayoshi Son, Jose Mas, and Beckham.

In a statement, Mas said: "Inter Miami CF acknowledges that the club violated Major League Soccer's roster rules in our first season. 

"We have worked closely with MLS to address these issues and have made significant changes in our management structure. Following our inaugural season, we took a deep look at our soccer operations leadership group and made decisions that not only strengthened our internal roster compliance measures, but also better positioned us to build a sustainable, long-term competition strategy with the hiring of Chris Henderson as chief soccer officer and sporting director in 2021.  

"Inter Miami is an ambitious club with big aspirations. We believe our fanbase, market and ownership group propel us to be one of North America's most-followed futbol teams in the world. We are committed to supporting our team and building a roster we are proud of."

Inter Miami – led by head coach Phil Neville this season – are ninth in the 14-team Eastern Conference with eight points from seven games in 2021.

Inter Miami head coach Phil Neville shot down rumours claiming the MLS side are trying to sign Real Madrid star Marcelo.

Marcelo is out of contract in 2022 but the 33-year-old Madrid left-back is facing an uncertain future with the LaLiga giants due his form and advancing years.

Inter Miami, who are co-owned by former Madrid star David Beckham, have emerged as an option for Marcelo – ex-Los Blancos forward Gonzalo Higuain and World Cup-winning midfielder Blaise Matuidi headline the squad.

Current Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, who is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, is also reportedly on Inter Miami's radar.

However, Neville poured cold water over the speculation linking Brazilian veteran Marcelo with Inter Miami.

"I don't need another left-back," ex-Manchester United utility Neville told reporters. "I've got more left-backs than yellow taxis, you know what I mean. We could do with a few more positions but no. 

"I think it shows the level of the club and interest in the club, yes. But ultimately, I think what I want for us is pure stability. So when they have all these stars that are being linked with Inter Miami it's brilliant, shows that the people do want to come to Inter Miami. 

"But ultimately, I want us to have stability here, I want players to be here for a long time. You think about every time somebody gets mentioned, somebody in this football club, somebody in this team, in my team will feel, even if it's point one percent unnerved by it, that's not good for us, it is not good for the player.

"What I would say is, and me and Chris Henderson talk about this all the time, is that the most successful teams, you think about the Seattle team, Chris Scott first and experienced of it, stability is the key. The great team that I played in Manchester United, you had the core of a team that was together for four or five years before Sir Alex [Ferguson] rebuilt it.

"Yes, you sprinkle around the edges and you tweak here and there you introduce new players around the edges, but you're gonna have eight, nine players that are going to be here for the next three or four years to get that stability and I'm talking about the DP [designated] players as well they need stability. You know the worst thing that can happen is them reading the newspaper every single day thinking about who's coming to the club.

"We believe in the players that we've got, we've, the ownership have invested so much money in this football team. And now I think stability is the only way we'll get success that's what the best team in this league have had that's what the best teams in football, have had success on, stability.

"We're never going to stop you guys speculating and, you know, an agent's putting in players because this is a place that a lot of players will want to come, but ultimately I'm happy with the squad that I've got, I want stability around this place."

Marcelo has called Madrid home since 2007, winning five LaLiga titles and four Champions League trophies among other honours.

Meanwhile, Inter Miami – into their second MLS season and first under Neville – have won two of their opening six matches to sit seventh in the 14-team Eastern Conference.

Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez started the MLS season with a bang, scoring twice as LA Galaxy spoiled Phil Neville's Inter Miami debut in a 3-2 victory.

Former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker Chicharito endured a difficult and injury-plagued 2020 season, Mexico's all-time leading goalscorer netting just twice after joining the Galaxy.

But Chicharito kicked off his redemption season in style – his two-goal second half sinking David Beckham's Inter Miami in Sunday's season opener.

"I'm holding [back] my tears. I suffered the loss of my grandfather, I would love him to keep watching [me] scoring goals," Chicharito said. "I'm very touched because, like I told you, last year was very difficult.

"I miss him so much and these goals are for him, my kids, my whole family, my friends, everyone. I maintain patience, I keep grinding and thankfully things are coming around and hopefully, like I say, I just want to be a part of an unbelievable season and lift the trophy."

Trailing to Robbie Robinson's opening goal in first-half stoppage time, Chicharito equalised just past the hour mark in front of a sell-out crowd in Miami.

Former Juventus and Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain restored Inter Miami's lead in the 68th minute – just his second goal for the club since arriving in the United States.

It had ex-United utility and former England women's boss Neville dreaming of a dream start in Miami, where he replaced Diego Alonso as head coach ahead of the 2021 season.

But Chicharito levelled proceedings again with a trademark header 17 minutes from the end before Sacha Kljestan put the Galaxy in front in the 81st minute.

Elsewhere, reigning champions Columbus Crew drew 0-0 against Supporters' Shield holders Philadelphia Union, while Vancouver Whitecaps edged Portland Timbers 1-0.

MLS concluded David Beckham's Inter Miami violated the league's roster and salary rules following the signing of France international midfielder Blaise Matuidi.

Inter Miami lured Matuidi from Serie A champions Juventus to the United States for their inaugural season in 2020 – the World Cup-winning star teaming up with Gonzalo Higuain after the club used targeted allocation money (TAM).

But as Inter Miami prepare for their second season in MLS, which kicks off under Phil Neville against LA Galaxy on Sunday, MLS deemed the club were not roster compliant – meaning the team effectively had four designated players last season rather than the three allowed.

Higuain, Rodolfo Pizarro and Matias Pellegrini were Inter Miami's listed designated players in 2020.

"The league has concluded that Inter Miami was not in compliance with the roster and budget rules during 2020," a statement read on Friday, with the league to finalise its investigation and sanctions in the "near future".

"In 2020, Matuidi was categorised as a targeted allocation money [TAM] player. Matuidi's compensation was above the compensation limit for a TAM player and he should have been classified as a designated player.

"As a result, Inter Miami CF violated the designated player limit as the team had three designated players in addition to Matuidi during 2020."

To become roster compliant, Inter Miami exercised their off-season buyout on midfielder Pellegrini – one of last season's designated players.

Pellegrini – signed from Argentine side Estudiantes ahead of the 2020 campaign – joined the club's USL League One affiliate Fort Lauderdale CF on loan and will not be eligible to play on the team's 2021 MLS roster.

"We've been working with Matias, his representatives and MLS to reach an agreement, and at this time we believe this is the best option for all parties," Inter Miami sporting director Chris Henderson said.

"Matias is a talented young player with an exciting career ahead. He will remain with the organisation as we work on finding an on-field opportunity and next steps for him."

Inter Miami endured a tough time in 2020, finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference before losing in the play-in round of the playoffs.

They also suffered three defeats in three games in Group A of the MLS Is Back tournament amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is doing an "incredible" job as Manchester United manager, according to former team-mate David Beckham.

In two and a half years since he initially took over on an interim basis at Old Trafford, Solskjaer has helped to restore a positive atmosphere and style of play at United since the damaging final few weeks of Jose Mourinho's time in charge.

United finished third in the Premier League last season and are on course to improve to second in 2020-21, although Manchester City appear set to be crowned champions.

However, silverware has eluded the former Norway striker. United were beaten in three semi-finals last season, lost to Manchester City in the last four of the EFL Cup in December and were knocked out of the FA Cup at the quarter-final stage by Leicester City last Sunday.

Solskjaer has claimed that winning trophies is not necessarily a good marker of a team's development, but those comments, combined with United's inability to reach cup finals and their Champions League exit group-stage last December, has led to suggestions he is not the right man to take the Red Devils onto the next stage of their development.

But Beckham, who won five Premier League titles, the Champions League and FA Cup while Solskjaer's United team-mate from 1996 to 2003, insists he can ride out the criticism and continue to do good work.

"I've seen some of the criticism but I suppose when you are a manager of Man United when they've had success over the years that they've had, there was always going to be a point where people get criticised, whether it's the players, whether it's the owners, whether it's the manager," the Inter Miami co-owner told ESPN.

"Ole's been in the game long enough to be able to take any kind of criticism. He's very quiet, he gets on with his job, and I think he's done an incredible job down at United.

"The results are starting to show that. Hopefully, it continues because the fans love Ole, we all love Ole and we all want him to do well. So, when the criticism comes, he's one person that can take it."

Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham believes signing stars such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar is far from a pipe dream for the MLS club.

The franchise has been linked with offers for Barcelona captain Messi and Juventus superstar Ronaldo as they approach the final years of their storied careers, while Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar stated last year he had given Beckham his word he would sign for him in the future.

Former Manchester United midfielder and England captain Beckham remains confident he can attract players of such calibre to Florida.

"When we announced Miami, there was always going to be talk about what players we were going to bring in, whether it was Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar," Beckham told ESPN.

"There was always going to be those discussions. I actually don't think it's a tough one for players to decide, to be honest, because it's a great place.

"Obviously, it's a great city, I feel like we've got a great fan base, but I also understand there's great talent in Miami and South Florida, and I think we have a real opportunity. Miami is a city that has that pull on players who have been playing in Europe that are big stars."

After signing notable names such as Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi and Rodolfo Pizarro, Inter Miami endured a tough time in 2020, finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference before losing in the play-in round of the playoffs.

Inter Miami also suffered three defeats in three games in Group A of the MLS Is Back tournament amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Co-owner Beckham is now hoping for a brighter second season in MLS under former team-mate Phil Neville, who took over from Diego Alonso as head coach.

"[Neville] is the kind of coach that will get the best out of the players," said Beckham. "He won't just work with the [Designated Players], he works with the young kids that have come through the academies.

"His experience being a part of one of the best academies in the game at Manchester United when we were growing up, working with different coaches.

"He was David Moyes' assistant at Manchester United, he was an assistant coach at Valencia, and then obviously he went on to be the coach of the England women's national team, which was a great experience, but also challenging at times."

David Beckham's Inter Miami are trying to woo Cristiano Ronaldo to MLS.

Ronaldo, 36, is contracted at Juventus until 2022, but his next move is seemingly already a discussion point.

And MLS could suit nicely if Beckham has his way.

 

TOP STORY – BECKHAM'S INTER MIAMI EYE CRISTIANO

Beckham is speaking to Ronaldo's representatives about a move to Inter Miami, according to todofichajes.com.

The Portugal international is understood to be interested by the challenge of joining the club in the United States.

The financial contract would be massive for Ronaldo but he may potentially make the move next January, lowering the transfer fee, given the MLS runs from March to December.

Lionel Messi was reportedly previously sounded out about a possible US switch.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Express are reporting that Gareth Bale's recent form upturn means Tottenham are now keen to sign him permanently, with the Welshman having joined on loan from Real Madrid. Subsequently, the funds availed from a permanent transfer could enable Madrid to enter the fray for Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe.

West Ham, Leicester City, Southampton, Brighton and Hove Albion and Aston Villa are among the list of clubs interested in Tammy Abraham if Chelsea deem him surplus to requirements, according to The Telegraph.

- The Star claims the Hammers are also keen on two other young English strikers; Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah and Brentford's Ivan Toney.

- Deportivo Alaves goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco is being pursued by Premier League pair Leeds United and Southampton, according to todofichajes.com.

There was more penalty drama for Manchester City as the Premier League leaders visited reigning champions Liverpool on Sunday.

Gundogan skied his spot-kick at an empty Anfield, although it would not prove a costly miss as City ran out 4-1 winners to extend their advantage at the summit.

Pep Guardiola will no doubt be keen to correct a remarkable failing in his outstanding side's game, however.

City's record from 12 yards features in our quirky facts from the weekend's top-flight action.
 

Sterling's penchant for pens wasted at City

As Gundogan, who later scored twice, blazed over in front of the Kop, it meant City have now accounted for four of the past six Premier League spot-kicks to miss the target - including three against Liverpool (also Riyad Mahrez in October 2018 and Kevin De Bruyne in November 2020).

City are five points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand but could be in an even more commanding position if they were more clinical from the spot.

In Raheem Sterling, City boast the player who has won more penalties (21) than any other in Premier League history, the latest seeing Fabinho trip the former Liverpool forward.

Sterling is unlikely to ease his side's penalty woes, however, having scored just one of his four attempts in the competition.

Only two players in Premier League history have a worse record after taking at least four penalties, with Mike Newell and Juninho Paulista each missing all their four attempts.

Nick Barmby, like Sterling, netted one of four. No player in the competition has ever taken five or more penalties and converted fewer than two.
 

Lloris longevity leading Ronaldo and Messi

Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris made his 500th top-flight appearance in the 2-0 win over West Brom, keeping his 173rd clean sheet.

Since his Ligue 1 bow for Nice in March 2006, no player has appeared more often in Europe's top five leagues than the World Cup-winning France goalkeeper.

Second on the list over that span is another goalkeeper still going strong in Inter's Samir Handanovic on 493 games, coincidentally also registering 173 clean sheets.

And the two biggest names of all sit third and fourth, Cristiano Ronaldo on 484 appearances just ahead of Lionel Messi's 480.

Karim Benzema (463) makes the top 10, while David Silva (448), Sergio Ramos (446) and Sergio Aguero (443) are all in the top 20.
 

Saints star not quite the free-kick king

James Ward-Prowse's latest free-kick goal came in a losing effort for Southampton at Newcastle United, but he nudged further up the all-time Premier League standings.

The spectacular effort at St James' Park was the England international's 10th direct free-kick strike in the competition, becoming the ninth player to that mark.

Ward-Prowse has scored with 13.9 per cent of his 72 direct free-kick shots, while 37 per cent of his 27 Premier League goals have come via this method.

Only Laurent Robert (11 of 23 goals for 47.8 per cent) and Sebastian Larsson (11 of 26 goals for 42.3 per cent) netted a greater share of their goals in the competition direct from set-pieces.

Ward-Prowse still has some way to go to match David Beckham's record of 20 free-kick goals, however. Thierry Henry (12), Gianfranco Zola (12) and Ronaldo (11), along with Robert and Larsson, are the others still above the Southampton star.

His tally of four this term trails only Beckham in 2000-01 and Robert the following season (both five) over a single campaign.

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