Time Magazine named Lionel Messi its Athlete of the Year for 2023, following his blockbuster move to play for Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami in the United States.
Messi is the first men’s soccer player to receive Time’s annual award for athletes since it was unveiled in 2019. It debuted by honoring the UWSNT as a whole, in honor of their fourth World Cup title. The impact of their victory, led by Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, was boosted by their collective success in addressing the pay gap with their male counterparts via a discrimination lawsuit.
Since then, gymnastics legend Simone Biles, baseball star Aaron Judge and NBA all-time points leader LeBron James have also won the award.
For Messi, the honor comes days shy of a year since his victory with Argentina at the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar. In July, he left Ligue 1 leader Paris Saint-Germain for Inter Miami and quickly made his mark.
Before Messi even stepped on the pitch, Inter Miami reached 5.7 million Instagram followers following the news of his signing, surpassing every NFL and MLB team. In the final minutes of his thrilling debut, he scored a winning goal on a free-kick that ignited the sports world.
He scored 11 goals in 14 games during the season, scoring as Inter Miami beat Nashville to win the Leagues Cup for their first major trophy. He missed half of the season with an undisclosed injury, returning too late for for the club to make the playoffs. Despite the missed games, Messi won his eighth Ballon d’Or this year in October, a prestigious global soccer award.
The announcement of Messi’s Time award was accompanied by a profile featuring comments from David Beckham, who similarly altered MLS when he joined the LA Galaxy in 2007.
Now co-owner of Inter Miami, Beckham said he wasn’t sure Messi would want to move to Florida since he was also considering Barcelona and Saudi Arabia.
“The truth is that fortunately, I had several options on the table that were interesting, and I had to analyze them and think, even weigh them up with my family, before making the final decision to come to Miami,” Messi told Time.
Worried about Messi’s options, Beckham appealed to him through his experience with the Galaxy.
“I explained to him, as a family, the six years we had in L.A. were the best six years that we had,” Beckham said via Time. “People welcomed us with open arms, not just in L.A., but the whole of America.”
Beckham was so moved by Messi’s debut for the club that he couldn’t drive home afterward.
“You couldn’t have written it better,” he said. “It was for MLS, and for America. It was for the future of the game.”
Messi opted not to go on loan this winter and will remain in Miami for the 2024 MLS season.