By India Today Sports Desk: Magicians and fairytales. Words that a realistic person would say are limited to just bedtime stories and folklore. But on July 21, in the DRV PNK stadium, with a crowd attendance of close to 21,000 and the likes of LeBron James, Kim Kardashian and others present, Lionel Messi decided to show why magic is a term not relegated to just books and lore.
Messi’s decision to leave Europe was met with divided opinion. Some felt the Argentine maestro, fresh off his World Cup win in Qatar, still had a lot to do in one of the top football continents in the world today. In fact, Messi had also confirmed that the Qatar World Cup would be his last ahead of the 2022 marque event. However, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner could feature in the 2024 Copa America.
Others, well, decided to say it was all fueled by the big money lure from Inter Miami, a team owned by David Beckham. According to several reports, Messi turned down a big-money move to Saudi Arabia, to join Inter Miami for a reported salary ranging between 125 to 150 million USD.
While the debate may still rage on why Messi left Europe, the man said he wanted himself and his family to be away from the spotlight. Easier said than done.
The much-anticipated unveiling of Messi was a grand affair with close to 20,000 fans in attendance, in the small DRV PNK stadium. According to Inter Miami’s website, the stadium’s maximum capacity is 19,100.
Nothing close to the mega Colosseum that is Camp Nou, rather Spotify Camp Nou, which used to pack in crowds close to 80K, who would religiously come in to see their ‘Messiah’ play in Barcelona colours.
There was intense rain on that Sunday, July 16, yet the fans stood back to see their new superstar being unveiled before their eyes, as he had a lot to do with the club in the city of Miami.
Inter Miami are rooted to the bottom of the table in the Eastern Conference of the MLS, something Messi has never faced in his time in Europe. In fact, if you look at Miami’s finishes since 2020, their highest overall finish was 12th last season.
Inter Miami were also low on confidence and morale as their last win in the MLS came back on May 14. Certainly unchartered waters for Messi.
So when the debut for the 36-year-old rolled in, the Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul was all about making a statement. A benchmark on how Messi would play on a new continent.
Miami had taken the lead against their Mexican opponents in the 44th minute. The crowd was elated to see Messi warming up after half-time as the superstar made his official Inter Miami debut after coming on in the 54th minute.
But, Cruz Azul wanted to spoil the party. They equalized in the 65th minute through Uriel Antuna, and the Mexican club was dominant throughout the game. They were leading 18-12 in shots count and 8-6 when it came to efforts on target.
Messi, who had just three training sessions in total before the game, did have a goal ruled out due to offside. Inter Miami fans did have the same sinking feeling once again, which they had become accustomed to given their team’s poor run in recent times.
But then, in the dying moments of the game, Messi won a free-kick, 25 yards from goal. There was no doubt who was going to be taking it, as the Argentine superstar has been in the same spot many times during his illustrious career.
The pressure, may or may not have been big compared to a Champions League or World Cup final, but it was a clutch situation. The celebrities were there, and the cameras on the phones were ready to capture the perfect moment. The footballing world was watching on.
The Inter Miami fans were desperately hoping that their new ‘Messiah’ would save them.
A couple of looks at the goal and a couple of strides later, the 36-year-old unleashed an inch-perfect free-kick that would make the net bulge, sending the crowd into raptures and winning the game for his new club.
Magic? Well, if you don’t believe in it, just look at how the strike reduced one of the greatest free-kick takers of all time, Beckham, into tears of joy.
Messi truly made it a special night and a fairytale start to his new chapter. But a realistic person would say, fairytales and magic exist in storybooks.
Well, football is a sport that is sometimes just that. Magic and fairytales!
The US and MLS have one of the greatest magicians of all time playing on their soil. And for the opening trick, Messi decided to produce one of his signature free-kicks.