Despite disappointing results and a last conference berth, Inter Miami is a popular team whose places for the next matches are snapped up at exorbitant prices, pushing the club to increase the capacity of its stadium, and for a only reason: Lionel Messi.
By signing for the Major League Soccer (MLS) club, the Argentinian star brought a breath of fresh air, with the hope of seeing the level of the American league finally take off, and unleashed the passions of fans in Miami, where many live. many Latin Americans.
On Tuesday, when he arrived in Fort Lauderdale, about fifty kilometers north of Miami, where the Inter FC stadium is built, around twenty fans were there to greet the world champion, with unequivocal signs: “We were expecting you, Messi.
Singing and chanting the name of their idol at the entrance to the airport, they were happy to be there, even without seeing the child from Rosario, his hometown.
“I feel very good because I know that even if I don’t see him there, I will see him in an hour, next week or in ten days. We are simply fully behind him, ”enthused Ariel Gonzalez, 56.
The departure of 36-year-old Lionel Messi from Paris SG and his signing at the Florida club came as a surprise to many, even though Inter had been working on it for a long time. But his offer was rivaled by a Saudi gold bridge and the possibility of a return to his forever club, FC Barcelona.
Now, Miami fans are counting the days separating them from their big debut, probably on July 21 in the Leagues Cup, the competition launched in 2019 but which has only been played twice so far and brings together all American clubs. and Mexicans.
For Raul Patino, an Argentinian who landed 22 years ago in Florida, the arrival of Messi marks “a before and after” in the history of soccer in the United States.
“He is one of the best players in the world, just like Pelé or Maradona. In 10 years, when we ask a teenager what he wants to play, he will answer soccer, it will be due to the impact of Messi on these children, ”assures the 44-year-old man.
A Messi effect
Inter Miami, which counts former soccer player David Beckham among its shareholders, is already rubbing its hands on the economic opportunities offered by this arrival and the immense interest generated by the sevenfold Ballon d’Or. .
As soon as his signing was announced, the cheapest places for his possible debut, against Mexico’s Cruz Azul, went from 29 to 329 dollars on the online sales platform TickPick, an increase of more than 1,000%.
The club has announced other prestigious arrivals, starting with former Argentina coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino or former Spain international Sergio Busquets, Messi’s teammate at Barça, as well as the increase in the capacity of its stadium.
In Wynwood, the artistic district of Miami, the Messi madness took other forms, such as the huge portrait of the player made on the facade of a building by his compatriot Maximiliano Bagnasco.
The artist has finalized the first step, the soccer player’s smiling face, but now moves on to the next step: the player’s body in its new colors.
A meticulous work, on which he progresses every morning, a parasol protecting him from the strong heat of these last days.
“I painted a huge Messi in Albania and during my stay there, the announcement of his signing here fell. Many of my acquaintances then told me that I had to paint it in Miami as well,” explains Bagnasco.
Not far away, another Argentinian, Juan Tavoas, admits to being surprised by the enthusiasm created by the arrival of Lionel Messi in Miami.
“There is a form of madness in what Messi represents for us Argentines”, recognizes the 38-year-old tourist, “now this madness is also taking hold of Miami. In all the shops there are t-shirts bearing his image, he is absolutely everywhere. It feels like Buenos Aires or Rosario”.
But in Miami, the “Messimania” has only just begun.