Lionel Messi’s dazzling performance at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has etched his name indelibly in the annals of sports history. Leading Argentina to victory with a thrilling penalty shootout, Messi’s world championship triumph became a memorable chapter in his illustrious career. As we stride into 2023, Argentina continues to bask in the afterglow of their World Cup victory, celebrating their footballing hero.
However, the narrative took an unexpected turn upon Messi’s return to France, where he was plying his trade for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). The media was awash with reports of his purported discontent at the Parisian club, and offers from football giants commensurate with his stature flooded in.
It was, therefore, nothing short of a global shock when Messi announced his intention to move to a lesser-known team, Inter Miami FC, based in Florida, United States. This marked a significant shift, as Messi left behind the glitz of Paris for a new adventure in Major League Soccer (MLS). At the helm of this ambitious MLS expansion side was none other than former England, Manchester United, and Real Madrid star David Beckham.
Beyond the confines of the football pitch, Messi’s decision was a shrewd investment, capturing the imagination of football enthusiasts worldwide. Inter Miami’s Messi jersey sold out within a mere 24 hours, setting a new benchmark by eclipsing the previous record held by Cristiano Ronaldo.
The signing was not just about acquiring a footballing legend; it was about catapulting Major League Soccer into the global football conversation. As Simon Evans, the US Sports Correspondent for AFP, aptly put it, “I think what Messi’s done already is become a national focal point for MLS, which they haven’t had before.”
Messi, at 36 years old, had no guarantees to transform Inter Miami’s fortunes on the field. Yet, the man affectionately known as ‘La Pulga’ (Little Pea) is demonstrating once again why he is considered one of the greatest footballers of all time. Messi has led Inter Miami to their first-ever trophy, clinching the Golden Boot after securing victory in the League Cup.
To cap it off, he was bestowed with the title of Player of the Tournament. A six-week hiatus followed, and when the domestic campaign resumed, Inter Miami found themselves at the bottom of the table before Messi’s arrival. However, his MLS debut featured a sublime goal and an emphatic win, marking the perfect renaissance for the club.
While Messi received lucrative offers from various quarters, his move to the United States proved to be the right choice within just three months. The Saudi Pro League’s audacious acquisition of football luminaries like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Neymar, reportedly offering a staggering €370 million-per-year deal to Messi, stirred considerable buzz. This sum significantly surpassed Cristiano Ronaldo’s earnings at Al-Nassr, the Riyadh-based club.
For many, the tantalizing prospect of Messi’s return to Barcelona held a special allure. Such a transfer would have provided closure after his remarkable 21-year tenure, culminating in an emotional farewell in 2021. Barcelona supporters like Romàn de Arquer reflected on the emotional rollercoaster of those times, saying, “We were heartbroken… But I mean, in the end, we have to move on. What can we do? You know, at least we have all those memories from Leo Messi, and I’m sure he’ll be back in the club, even if it’s not as a player.”
As the Ballon d’Or ceremony looms, there is the intriguing possibility of Messi adding an eighth Ballon d’Or award to his record-breaking cabinet later this year. If recognized as the most significant individual in football, it would be another fitting tribute to this superstar’s enduring excellence.
However, having a star of Messi’s magnitude brings its own set of challenges. Managing his game-time at 36 is crucial, and Inter Miami’s owners and manager, Gerard Martimo, must balance keeping their fans happy while ensuring their marquee player’s well-being.
Miami Ultras fans are ready to go to great lengths, paying up to 460 euros for match-day tickets to witness the legend in action. For Lionel Messi, his sojourn in the United States has marked a fantastic start, not only for Inter Miami but for Major League Soccer as a whole. It’s a total game-changer that reaffirms Messi’s enduring status as one of the greatest players of all time.