Messi’s Inter Miami decision could spark biggest boost in MLS history
LIONEL MESSI’S decision to play in the United States might be the biggest boost ever for American soccer on the pro stage.
Some of the game’s biggest names – Pele, Thierry Henry, Inter Miami owner David Beckham – have come to the US toward the end of their careers, but landing a player still no worse than near the pinnacle of his game and just a few months removed from hoisting a World Cup is simply huge.
It took months of negotiations with MLS, the Inter Miami ownership, Adidas and even Apple getting involved in a creative pitch to bring Messi to Miami’s pitch. Apple – which is a broadcast partner of MLS – announced Tuesday that it will show a still-untitled four-part documentary series “featuring exclusive behind-the-scenes access to global superstar Lionel Messi. ... In his own words, Messi tells the definitive story of his incredible career with the Argentina national football team, providing an intimate and unprecedented look at his quest for a legacy-defining World Cup victory.”
And now, his story will have a Miami chapter.
Inter Miami needed six years from inception to playing its first match, and its first four seasons have been less than stellar.
Messi is joining a team that sits last in the Eastern Conference and just fired its coach. It has made the playoffs in two of its first three seasons but has yet to finish a season with a winning record or even a positive goal differential.
HINTS FOR MONTHS
Still, there have been hints for months that Miami remained very much in the Messi sweepstakes. Messi met with Inter Miami co-owner Beckham this spring, and that was shared publicly almost to ensure that everyone knew the sides were still talking. Messi and his family also own several pieces of luxury real estate in South Florida, and – almost as if to suggest something big was coming – the MLS club told fans the only way they could get tickets for the second half of this season was to purchase a season-ticket package.
He’s an enormous draw everywhere on the globe, including Miami. Two days after Argentina won the World Cup, Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry sat on his team’s bench for a game unable to play because of injury. He wore a Messi jersey that night.
Inter Miami still plays home matches in a temporary home in Fort Lauderdale, about 45 minutes north of the site in Miami where the team wants to build a permanent complex.
And even in an area where the population has a serious Latin flavour, and where more people might actually call the sport futbol than soccer, Inter Miami has struggled to generate the same attention as do the area’s primary pro teams – basketball’s Heat, baseball’s Miami Marlins, football’s Miami Dolphins and hockey’s Florida Panthers.
Messi could change that in an instant. In a flash, he becomes the biggest name in MLS and makes everything Miami does newsworthy.
His decision ends what has been a wild saga. Barcelona made Messi a superstar, but the financial issues that forced the team to letting him go two years ago still remain an issue.
“I heard that they’d have to sell players or lower players’ salaries and the truth is, I didn’t want to go through that,” Messi said yesterday.
There are no financial issues with Saudi Arabia, and speculation that he would end up there intensified when Messi made an unauthorised trip to the kingdom. PSG suspended him and some fans turned on him, serenading him with jeers toward the end of his season with the French club.
Everyone knew he wouldn’t be back with PSG. Few likely thought he was heading to Miami. But here he is, a move to Miami by a superstar that might even be more shocking than LeBron James arriving to join the Heat 13 years ago.