Rodolfo Pizarro and Lionel Messi
CNN  — 

Fans turned out in their droves to watch Lionel Messi’s official unveiling as an Inter Miami player.

They had braved heavy rain and thunder to catch a glimpse of the Argentine superstar wearing Inter’s distinctive pink kit for the first time.

But as they did so, spare a thought for Rodolfo Pizarro.

A Mexican international, Pizarro joined Inter in 2020 ahead of its inaugural Major League Soccer (MLS) season.

He scored the team’s first-ever goal later that year, going onto make 58 appearances for the club, scoring seven goals and providing 13 assists across his Inter career.

When Pizarro signed for Inter, he filled one of the club’s three ‘Designated Player’ spots. Designated players in the MLS are not restricted by the league’s salary cap.

The rule is also known as the ‘Beckham Rule’ after David Beckham – now Inter’s co-owner – became the first designated player when he joined LA Galaxy in 2007. The rule allows teams to compete for players outside of the league’s pay structure and potentially attract stars like Messi.

So, with Messi signing a contract reportedly worth between $50 to $60 million per year, the 35-year-old Argentine fills one of Inter’s designated player spots.

It was on Friday – the before day Messi’s official signing took place – that Inter announced that Pizarro’s contract had been mutually terminated, thereby freeing up a designated player slot.

CNN has reached out to the club to ask whether Pizarro was primarily released to reduce the club’s number of designated players. CNN has also contacted Pizarro’s agent for comment.

CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA - JUNE 24: Rodolfo Pizarro #20 of Inter Miami in the second half of the Major League Soccer match against the Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park on June 24, 2023 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images)

In a heartfelt goodbye message on Instagram last, Mexican international Pizarro said it had been an honor to play for Inter Miami.

Greek top-flight side AEK Athens announced on Monday that it had signed Pizarro, reuniting him with the team’s manager Matías Almeyda after he coached the 29-year-old at Mexican team Chivas. “Very happy to be here, fulfilling a dream,” wrote Pizarro on Instagram.

‘Building a roster’

Inter has also recently announced the signing of Messi’s longtime Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets.

Which means Inter, according to the club’s website, has four designated players on its roster – Messi, Busquets, as well as Josef Martínez and Gregore.

Either Inter can look to move one of their designated players on or they can “buy down” a player’s contract. The club can spend a portion of their allocated money to reduce one of their player’s contracts, which means they will no longer be deemed a designated player. As the MLS guidelines explain: “A club may buy down a player earning $700,000 to a Salary Budget Charge of $500,000 by using $200,000 of General Allocation Money.”

Inter will be keen to comply with MLS regulations having already fallen foul of them before.

In 2021, the club was hit by an MLS-record $2 million fine and a $2.2 million cap hit over the misuse of the designated player allocation and violations of the league’s salary budget.

The violations included the incorrect roster categorization for players Blaise Matuidi and Andrés Reyes who should have occupied a designated player slot, MLS said in its statement.

“The violations also included undisclosed agreements that resulted in the underreporting of salary budget amounts for players Leandro González Pirez, Nicolás Figal and Julián Carranza,” according to MLS.

Inter Miami’s managing owner Jorge Mas was also personally fined $250,000.

“We have worked closely with MLS to address these issues and have made significant changes in our management structure,” Mas said in a statement at the time.

“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 fútbol teams in the world. We are committed to supporting our team and building a roster we are proud of.”