Soccer superstar Lionel Messi has been named Athlete of the Year by Time Magazine, thanks in large part to his decision to bring his talents to Inter Miami and ultimately raise the profile of Major League Soccer.
The honour comes just over a year from Messi's win with Argentina at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but Americans have since been wowed by the 36-year-old, who left Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain for Miami.
Messi immediately made a splash with soccer fans in South Florida and beyond. Just after the news of his signing, Inter Miami's Instagram followers exploded to 5.7 million, more than any NFL or MLB team.
Among the stars to watch Messi in person have been previous Time Athlete of the Year winner LeBron James, tennis star Serena Williams, music stars Diddy and DJ Khaled, and reality star Kim Kardashian.
Soccer legend David Beckham -- co-owner of Inter Miami -- often was seen happily taking in the Messi show.
"You couldn't have written it better," Beckham told Time about Messi's debut in which he scored a late goal to seal a 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls.
"It was for MLS, and for America. It was for the future of the game."
On the pitch, Messi notched a goal and two assists in six matches this season and helped Inter Miami defeat Nashville SC to win the Leagues Cup, their first major trophy.
Although he missed half the season with injury and Inter Miami ultimately failed to reach the playoffs, Messi still won the Ballon d'Or in October for the eighth time.
"From day one, Leo arrives early, and he leaves later than any other player," Beckham told Time. "He's the most professional player on our squad."
The Time Athlete of the Year award started in 2019 by honouring the US Women's National Team for winning their fourth soccer World Cup. Other winners were gymnastics legend Simone Biles, baseball star outfielder Aaron Judge and James.
Australian Associated Press