Look Who’s Now Taking His Talents To South Beach (Well, Fort Lauderdale)

In a week when just about every top athlete in team sports is converging upon South Florida (and after last night’s record-breaking effort, I’m including the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic), this announcement yesterday just about eclipsed all of them.  Per the AP’s TIm Reynolds:

Lionel Messi has pulled off his latest stunning feat: He is headed to Major League Soccer and joining Inter Miami.

After months — years, even — of speculation, Messi on Wednesday finally revealed his decision to join a Miami franchise that has been led by another global soccer icon, David Beckham, since its inception but has yet to make any real splashes on the field.

That likely will soon change. One of Inter Miami’s owners, Jorge Mas, tweeted out a photo of a darkly silhouetted Messi jersey shortly before the Argentinian great revealed his decision in interviews with Spanish news outlets Mundo Deportivo and Sport.

Considering the bandwagoning nature of South Florida sports fans, on a night the Heat were being beaten like a rented mule on their home court, and with the Panthers in desperate need on a win as they return to Broward County tonight, it’s highly likely many pre-orders occurred while fans fretted in their four and five-figure seats.

As Reynolds detailed, while there is precedence for an aging world star to join a North American pro league, whose overall quality is noticeably poorer than any European league, the timing and the skill set someone of Messi’s stature brings to Inter Miami and MLS is noteworthy:

He has been to the absolute mountaintop of the game. He is a four-time Champions League winner and his 129 goals in the top club competition are second to Ronaldo’s 140. Messi has won 10 La Liga titles and two Ligue 1 championships, seven Copa del Reys and three Club World Cups plus a Copa América and Olympic gold medal for Argentina.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner — the trophy given annually to the world’s best player — makes his move after two years with Paris Saint-Germain. At 35, Messi has nothing left to prove in the game and filled the only significant unchecked box on his resume back in December by leading Argentina to the World Cup title.

Messi has more than 800 goals in his career for club and country, making him one of the greatest scorers in the sport’s history. In more than 17 years of representing Argentina on the international stage, he has scored 102 goals against 38 different national team opponents — 16 of those goals coming on U.S. soil. He scored twice in last year’s World Cup final against France, a match that ended 3-3 with Argentina prevailing 4-2 on penalty kicks.

As someone who distinctly remembers late summer 1975 when Pele came to U.S. soil as a member of the New York Cosmos, who were laboring in a decrepit former track venue called Downing Stadium that literally sat under a bridge, it was newsworthy enough for every New York TV station to send a crew and CBS to carry his first match live.  Within 26 months, the Cosmos were playing championship matches in a sold-out, then spanking-new Giants Stadium, with other world-class teammates eventually joining him.

Inter Miami has been similarly underperforming since their 2018 inception, playing in what they have contended is a temporary home in Fort Lauderdale, a quick fix literally built upon the rubble that was once Lockhart Stadium, a one-time high school sports venue that housed Inter Miami’s ancestors, the storied Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the Pele era and the short-lived Miami Fusion of an earlier MLS era.  As Reynolds further detailed, the likely demand that Messi’s presence will create may very well accelerate that upgrade, with the league and its partners fully complicit:

It took months of negotiations with MLS, the 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.”

For Apple, in year one of a 10-year global media rights deal that has reportedly been so poorly received that it is discounting new subscriptions by more than 50 per cent.  Messi’s presence is expected to accelerate adoption, parrticularly in countries where Messi has traction based upon heritage and success.  France, Argentina and Spain, to name a few.

And in following the lead of Lebron James, making his announcement during such a dramatic week in the history of South Florida professional sports, he has all but assured that Inter Miami will become eminently more relevant and, one might hope, competitive.  They currently rank dead last in the Eastern Conference and just fired their coach.  Speculation already abounds that the eventual successor will have ties to Messi.  Which is fair, since it’s also being reported that Messi will eventually have part ownership of the franchise.

Hey, black and pink has worked for the Heat. If Inter Miami can create anything remotely close to Heat Culture, the sky’s the limit.

There’s plenty of hot venues and entertainment options in the area.  That’s particularly evident over the next few days.  As we wrote earlier this week, even the Marlins are improved; were the season to end today, they would qualify for the National League playoffs.

Now let’s add Inter Miami to the mix.  Save me a jersey for when I can afford it, please?


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