It’s taken too long for Americans to get a grip on soccer, the game that the rest of the world lovingly calls football. But thanks to Lionel Messi’s recent arrival in Miami, Stateside fans, as well as would-be fans, have taken to the great forward, and his game, seemingly overnight.
This past July, the world-famous footballer made public that he would join the roster of Inter Miami – a team that, prior to his signing on, pretty much stunk.
From the moment of that announcement, Messi Mania seized Miami and overtook the rest of the country (as is evidence by boosted ticket sales wherever Messi suits up). And it goes beyond people rushing him at restaurants, causing a shortage of pink jerseys in Miami and at least one bar mixing the Messi Mojito.
At the time of this writing, the oft defeated Inter Miami won 9 of its last 14 matches, played 4 to a draw and lost 1.
Over the course of 11 games, Messi managed 11 goals and five assists.
On the field, he helps the team beyond his own glory. As was the case when Messi played in Europe, his dribbling for Inter Miami is second to none, he’s great at envisioning what is coming down on the field and he’s happy to offer assists.
Less tangible: Messi has brought overriding confidence to the team and is proving to be an inspiration to other players. Nobody wants to screw up with Messi on the pitch.
Fans have come to believe the hype. And the 888 oddsmakers like him as well. For an upcoming match against the Houston Dynamos, Inter Miami is handicapped at 4/6. Pretty good for Messi and for Inter Miami (pending Messi playing in the game, following a muscle strain – details below) and maybe a pretty good bet for game punters.
Whatever the case, with Messi in the lineup, home-games are sold-out affairs, with not-so-good-seats said to be going for $900.
Team co-owner, and one-time soccer superstar in his own right, David Beckham has been attending matches with his wife and posting Messi-related pictures on his social media account; as for Inter Miami’s official Instagram, sign on and you’ll join 15.3 million other Messi maniacs.
Celebrities who’ve been spotted alongside Beckham in the VIP suites for games featuring Messi: Kim Kardashian, LeBron James and DJ Khaled.
According to AirMail.news, the Miami-based sculptor Augusto Esquivel will be paying tribute to the city’s favourite football prediction sports star with a statue that depicts Messi.
“It will be my way of thanking him,” Esquivel told the site. “He brings so much joy, success and business. That’s the feeling we all have toward Messi – we just want to thank him.”
One wrinkle, as noted above, is Messi contending with muscle strain. He is expected to sit out the game against Orlando City, on September 24, as this story is being written.
With Messi at his best, Inter Miami has a shot at sliding into the playoffs. Without him, it’s the kind of longshot that no sharp bettor would gamble on.
With the upcoming US Open Cup final, in which Inter Miami will be squaring off against Houston Dynamo, on September 27, the hope is that, by resting up, Messi will be back in form for the big match and go on to lead the rejuvenated Inter Miami into the playoffs.
As reported above, Inter Miami is a 4/6 favourite (a $10 bet will have you winning $6.67) in that game against Houston.
Currently, there is no word about Messi’s status for the remainder of the season. No doubt, if Esquivel’s statue were completed, it would be crowded with fans, on their knees, praying for an immediate return of the great Lionel Messi.