Lionel Messi’s move to Inter Miami CF has been a long time coming, and it’s one he and his family are profoundly contented with as he prepares to vie for the club’s first-ever trophy just one month on from his sensational arrival in South Florida – even with their long-term residence still being sorted out.
That was a clear theme on Thursday afternoon as the Argentine legend took part in his first full media availability since signing with the Herons, two days out from IMCF's Leagues Cup Final duel with Nashville SC at the latter’s GEODIS Park ground (9 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).
“I feel very happy here. I said it at the beginning, it was a place I chose to come to,” Messi said in Spanish in a press conference at DRV PNK Stadium. “It was a decision we took with time. It wasn’t from one day to the next, and that makes this all easier. We are in the place we want to be and it was our decision, so it makes it easier and simpler.
“We still don't have the house where we're going to live yet,” he explained, though his family have for years owned residential properties in town. “It's been an easy adjustment. We were convinced to come here and everyone [the club, fans and people on the street] has made it easy … the kids will start school soon.”
Feels like home
Messi’s new city is often referred to as the unofficial capital of Latin America, and he said that aspect of the area’s character has sped the transition for him, his wife Antonela Roccuzzo and their young sons Thiago, Mateo and Ciro. Even if, he added, IMCF’s busy run of matches has limited their opportunities to explore Miami further thus far.
“The welcome I received was impressive. It's a city with many Latinos and that's why everything is easier. Latino people are closer, they show their emotions, they show their feelings,” he said. “That care, closeness, that's the most important thing. It's very healthy and that helps you to accommodate yourself and to do a good job. … I've been here on vacations, I knew it. I knew what the city was all about, the people, and I already liked it. Now live it every day here.”
Messi also left no doubt of the drastic contrast that makes with his previous club move, from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, a sudden, emotional departure when his childhood club’s financial crisis prevented them from re-signing him after more than two decades in Catalonia. His two years at PSG proved to be challenging both personally and professionally.
“Me going to Paris wasn’t something I wanted,” said Messi. “I didn’t want to leave Barcelona and that was from one day to another. I had to get adjusted to a completely different place from where I had been all my life, both from the city standpoint and sporting standpoint, and it was hard. It’s the complete opposite of what’s happening now, thank God.”
A weight off the shoulders
Miami head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who also worked with Messi at Barça and the Argentina national team, has spoken often about the liberating effect of Messi’s emotional World Cup breakthrough with La Albiceleste in Qatar last autumn, calling the pressure of the international stage a “backpack” that has at last been removed from his shoulders.
That concept again rose to the fore on Thursday as Messi smiled readily and evenhandedly shrugged off the notion of him winning an eighth Ballon d'Or, the prestigious honor he’s already won more than anyone else in history.
“It’s one of the most beautiful individual acknowledgments, but I never gave it ‘importance,’ quote-unquote,” he said. “The most important for me have been collective awards, winning group awards. I’ve been lucky to win them throughout my career, and you can imagine that after winning the World Cup, which is the one I was missing, I’m thinking even less about that award. My most important award was that [World Cup] and I’m enjoying my moment.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have achieved all the goals I set for myself during my career, and now I have new goals with this club. That’s why we’re here, you know? To try to help the club win titles and personally, to keep winning titles.”
"No problem" playing on turf
Messi maintained that he’s trained his full focus on leading IMCF, who first took the field just three years ago, to the greatness that many expect from them. That seemingly includes playing on artificial turf, despite suggestions that Messi might avoid the surface when the Herons visit conference counterparts Atlanta and Charlotte in September and October.
“The truth is I played on artificial turf during my entire youth career, I played on that pitch all my life,” he said. “It’s true that a lot of time has passed since I played on artificial turf, but I have no problem in adapting myself again.”
With Miami currently in last place in the MLS Eastern Conference, they’ll need to extend their current unbeaten form when Messi and Sergio Busquets attempt to lead a ferocious late charge for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs as league play resumes next week. Reaching the Leagues Cup Final means the Herons have already qualified for next year’s Concacaf Champions Cup, though, and a hardware hoist in Nashville would fuel the momentum of his sensational start to life in North America.
“It would be incredible, for me and for all the supporters of the club,” he declared, “and for the club itself, which is looking to keep growing, to continue making a big change, to build a team that stands out. I think winning titles helps a lot. It would be huge.
“It’s beautiful to see how the fans of the club come every game to support us and be there with us. I’ve had to play a lot of games at home and the stadium has always been full," Messi said. "It’s a young club and being able to win that first title would be great for us all.”