Miami is about to get Messi and Miamians are about to discover we are a soccer town | Opinion


Lionel Messi’s presumed move to Inter Miami is the kind of big deal that could change a city.

Messi isn’t just a soccer superstar. He’s the star capable of turning a team that, quite frankly, has been relegated to second or third tier in South Florida’s competitive sports scene dominated by giants like the Miami Heat and the Florida Panthers. Ask Miamians and some might not even know there’s a local soccer team.

That’s about to change.

Messi could be for Inter Miami what Lebron James and Dwyane Wade were for the Miami Heat — but on a global scale. Messi ranks No. 2 on Forbes’ Highest Paid Athletes list at $130 million, just behind Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi carried Argentina to a victory at the 2022 World Cup, arguably the world’s most important sport event. Even his number of Instagram followers is eye-popping: 468 million. James, for comparison, has 154 million.

Rumors that Messi had been in negotiations with the team David Beckham co-owns began circulating months ago. On Wednesday, Messi told Spanish sports outlet Mundo Deportivo he plans to finally make the move, though he added the deal is not finalized.

“I have taken the decision today that I’m going to Miami,” Messi said. “I still don’t have it sealed 100 percent. There are a few things that we are still working on. If it wasn’t going to work out in Barcelona, I wanted to leave Europe, take the focus away from myself and focus more on my family. “

You don’t have to be a soccer fan to understand or appreciate the impact a player like Messi could have on the Magic City. This is, after all, the United States’ gateway to Latin America, home of many first and second-generation immigrants who grew up on futbol.

Whether adding a player like Messi to Inter Miami’s roster will finally make soccer an American household sport is a different story, but Messi promises to be as transformative as Beckham’s transfer to the Los Angeles Galaxy was in 2007, or the late Pele’s hiring by the New York Cosmos was in 1975. Pele increased attendance at Cosmos games from 3,500 to around 45,000 by 1977, The Athletic reported.

It’s impossible not to assume Messi will do the same for Inter Miami.

Stadium saga

In 2013, a then-highly popular, fresh-faced Beckham and partners rolled into Miami with an Major League Soccer franchise in hand and the idea of building a soccer stadium by the Biscayne Bay — in fact, in the parking lot of Royal Caribbean Cruises. Beckham and company, who even pitched their plan to the Miami Herald Editorial Board, assumed they had a slam dunk. They didn’t anticipate the backlash from the public, Royal Caribbean and politicians.

A backup plan had the stadium rising within Overtown, until Miami brothers Jose and Jorge Mas jumped in as partners. They put the push for the new stadium on overdrive and targeted the city-owed Melreese Golf Course to become Miami Freedom Park, the one and only 25,000-seat $1 billion stadium site complex with stores and restaurants.

The team and the city of Miami finished a deal last year to build the complex on the land by Miami International Airport. The Editorial Board was among many of the project’s critics because of questions about whether taxpayers were getting the best deal in return of leasing the land for 99 years. That’s a perpetual question in Miami when it comes to any land deals that promise taxpayers great rewards.

Messi’s arrival in Miami wouldn’t erase such concerns, but having the opportunity to watch the world’s greatest soccer player show his magic in our backyard, nevertheless, would be historic.