In a winter window in which transfers from Liga MX to Major League Soccer -- and to a lesser extent the other way -- have been a central talking point ahead of MLS' 25th season, Rodolfo Pizarro's move from Monterrey to Inter Miami CF is not just the biggest such deal of the offseason, it's the most important trade ever between the two North American leagues.
Of course, Pizarro is not the highest-profile Mexican player ever to play in MLS. Legends like Claudio Suarez, Jorge Campos, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Rafa Marquez have spent time in the league. There are recent stars like Giovani Dos Santos (now at Club America), reigning league MVP Carlos Vela and LA Galaxy's newest star signing, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.
But the circumstances surrounding Pizarro's move from Monterrey to Inter Miami make it historic.
None of those aforementioned names came into MLS in their prime. Pizarro turned 26 on Saturday and has increasingly featured for the national team since Gerardo "Tata" Martino took over in 2019. And none of those El Tri legends were wrenched from a Liga MX powerhouse trying desperately to hold on to him.
The pull of MLS -- which has been a major talking point of late in Mexico -- and in particular David Beckham's debutant Inter Miami, as well as the money offered and life in South Florida, was too much to turn down for Pizarro. Current Liga MX and CONCACAF champion Monterrey -- owned by multinational beverage and retail company FEMSA -- could only stall and delay before the deal was eventually done.
A complicated deal that almost collasped
Inter Miami -- and other MLS clubs -- were led to believe by Pizarro's representatives that the release clause for all non-Mexican clubs was $10 million USD (or $8 million for 80% of the player's rights), much less than the price of $19.6 million reported in sections of the Mexican media. That fee would've shattered the MLS record for an incoming player, but it was only in place for rival Mexican clubs.
Inter Miami, looking for an attacking focal point ahead of their debut season, showed interest, placing Pizarro on its Discovery List and starting formal negotiations to bring in the Mexican on Jan. 25. The subsequent holdup in completing the transfer was down to Monterrey's demands that Inter Miami had to pay a significant amount of the transfer up front and, perhaps most significantly, the taxes the Mexican club would incur from the sale, which were around 30%. It led Monterrey sporting director Duilio Davino to say last week that the deal was "in the hands of lawyers."
But with time running down until the club's MLS debut against LAFC on March 1 and Monterrey digging in its heels over the tax payments -- a major sticking point in the talks -- Miami stumped up a final offer of $12 million to force the transfer over the line on Wednesday. Pizarro is reportedly set to make almost double his wage at Monterrey, where he was already one of the highest-paid players in one of the best-paying teams in Mexico. The Beckham influence was felt via video calls to the Mexican telling him how much Inter Miami wanted the player.
Those calls weren't to everyone's taste, however, with Davino stating Thursday that Beckham's calls were against FIFA's rules because the player still had a contract with Monterrey.
Pizarro eager to embrace Miami spotlight
The signing of Pizarro may not be in line with some of the names previously linked with David Beckham's club -- Edinson Cavani, David Silva, Luis Suarez -- but he does bring an X factor to Inter Miami's debut season.
There is a good reason that Inter Miami went hard for Pizarro -- the player brings a championship mentality. He won a Liga MX title at Pachuca, Chivas and Monterrey, and the CONCACAF Champions League with the latter two. It's a haul of trophies the vast majority of players would be jealous of.
But Pizarro also injects Inter Miami with a flare and flamboyance that should go down well in South Florida. Take, for instance, when he posed for the cameras last May with his tongue out, socks rolled half down and the Champions League trophy in front of him, holding a fan-made sign that read "La pelota siempre al 20." The rough translation to English -- "Get the ball to the No. 20" -- is a twist on an Argentine phrase that uses No. 10 and, as you can imagine, conjures up imagery of Juan Roman Riquelme, Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona.
It'd be ridiculous to suggest Pizarro is at the level of those legends, but it's a useful starting point in describing Miami's second ever Designated Player. The 25-year-old always wants the ball and makes teams tick, something that head coach Diego Alonso will know all about after coaching Pizarro at Pachuca and Monterrey.
Pizarro is also the kind of player that gets fans off their feet. He's an entertainer, a player that regularly attracts boos from opposition fans, isn't frightened to wind up rival players, is spontaneous on the ball and can be outspoken off the field when he wants to be. He likes to have fun on the pitch, tries things other players wouldn't think of, and his twirling dance on celebrating goals has become famous in Mexico. After his stint at Chivas, one fan even tattooed Pizarro's image onto his body.
Pizarro has also made headlines off the field. He tends to respond to criticism on social media, has dyed his hair silver, insulted Club America's fan base during Chivas' 2016 Clausura title party (for which he later offered his apologies) and has celebrated goals mimicking "The Joker."
This has rubbed people the wrong way, with Club America boss Miguel Herrera even responding to Pizarro's antics by saying: "If you're going to have the [guts] to say those stupidities in public, do it openly to the camera."
What Pizarro brings to Miami on the pitch
Given the mention of flare and flamboyance, it may come as a surprise that Pizarro actually made his debut for Pachuca as a right-back under Hugo Sanchez back in September 2012. At age 19 and still a shy teenager, Pizarro then won his first Mexico cap in 2014 under future nemesis Herrera. And although he wasn't named to Herrera's final squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it appeared Pizarro would be a realistic option as a wing-back moving ahead.
By 2015, Pizarro was regularly playing further forward, first as a right midfielder and later as a No. 10. His balance, technical ability, nose for finding space between the lines and pure imagination in possession saw him touted as a player with a very bright future for Mexico.
Fast-forward to 2020 and Pizarro has been playing mainly behind central striker Rogelio Funes Mori under Antonio Mohamed at Monterrey in a 4-2-3-1. But at the international level, El Tri boss Gerardo "Tata" Martino has used Pizarro predominantly off the left wing in 2019, giving him license to drift inside to find space.
Former Atlanta United coach Martino is certainly a fan. Asked last October which players he would choose if he had to vote for "The Best" of Mexican football of 2019, Martino said only one name: Rodolfo Pizarro. It therefore shouldn't come as a surprise that the player leaned on Martino's advice about life in the MLS.
It is expected that Pizarro will play as the central focal point of Miami's attack in a 4-2-3-1, but Alonso did switch Pizarro to the flanks during their time together in Monterrey. In fact, for the really big games like the CONCACAF Champions League final against Toronto FC and the 2017 Clausura Liga MX final against Tigres, Pizarro featured predominantly in that position.
Recent struggles have stalled European move
As good as Pizarro can be and as many trophies as he's won, it has not been a great period for him on the field of late, with the drop in form coinciding, in part, with Mohamed returning to coach Monterrey in mid-October.
Pizarro was hauled off at halftime of the 2019 Apertura final second leg against Club America, with Monterrey noticeably improving and threatening with a more direct style in his absence.
And in what was his final start for Rayados last month, Pizarro exited the field in the 56th minute, making a point of showing the bench his disappointment.
The Club World Cup in December was supposed to be a launchpad for Pizarro to display his talent to European clubs, but it was a disappointment on a personal level. The game against Liverpool highlighted his tendency to hold on to the ball too much, especially in comparison to the brilliant 22-year-old Carlos Rodriguez, whose speed of thought and swiftness in executing passes had European clubs pricking up their ears.
Equally, former Mexico national team manager Juan Carlos Osorio never seemed convinced by Pizarro, indicating that he didn't make the 2018 World Cup squad because Vela, Dos Santos, Marco Fabian, and Hector Herrera were all ahead of him in his position.
It may well be that Pizarro just needs a change of scenery after winning so much in a short space of time, especially given that he's only just entering his prime. There will inevitably be criticism from the media in Mexico as a player with the talent to play in Europe's big leagues heads to MLS, but Inter Miami won't care. Beckham's club will just be hoping that Pizarro wows in Florida and that Rayados and Liga MX are left to lament the export of one of its best and most exciting players to a league breaking the mold this offseason when it comes to signing Mexican players.