Messi's calling mission: From the mаɡісаɩ debut goal that brought David Beckham to teагѕ and lifting his first tгoрһу for Inter Miami, to his іпсгedіЬɩe eighth Ballon d'Or tгoрһу

Messi’s calling mission: From the mаɡісаɩ debut goal that brought David Beckham to teагѕ and lifting his first tгoрһу for Inter Miami, to his іпсгedіЬɩe eighth Ballon d’Or tгoрһу

When Lionel Messi was introduced to Inter Miami fans on July 16, he offered a mission statement of sorts.

‘I come here with the same desire to compete, desire to win and help the club continue to grow,’ he said.

On the back of his World Cup triumph with Argentina in Qatar – in which he was named the player of the tournament at the ripe age of 35 – that vow has certainly been kept.

In the five-and-a-half months since Messi arrived in Miami, the club has won its first silverware, drawn the likes of LeBron James and Kim Kardashian to the club’s home in Fort Lauderdale and surpassed many of its American sports peers on social media.

There have been lighter moments too, like when the Argentine and his family took a (heavily-photographed) trip to supermarket Publix, either unaware of the attention it would bring or simply unbothered by it.

Lionel Messi was welcomed to Inter Miami with a massive ceremony on July 16

Messi was spotted at checkout at US supermarket chain Publix in Miami over the summer

The Argentine helped Miami lift its first trophy as the Herons beat Nashville in Leagues Cup

And while we never got the answer to what Messi likes on his ‘Pub Sub,’ we did find out what an eight-time Ballon d’Or winner looks like in America.

On his debut off the bench vs. Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup, he scored a winning free kick straight out of an extremely predictable movie script to give his team a 2-1 win.

Co-owner David Beckham  – no stranger to a late free kick goal himself – was brought close to tears. This was the vision he and owner Jorge Mas had dreamt up for the club, and Messi needed roughly 40 minutes to bring it to life.

Those sort of moments continued in the Leagues Cup, which Miami wound up winning behind its new big three of Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.

There was a pair of volleys vs. Orlando City, another gorgeous free kick vs. FC Dallas and a screamer vs. Nashville in the final as the Argentine adapted seamlessly in America. Should we really have been surprised?

If we learned anything new from Messi’s first half-season in Miami, it was the names of his previously anonymous teammates.

Miami co-owner David Beckham was left close to tears after Messi ‘s stoppage time winner

Winger Robert Taylor, who was in English non-league football not long ago, hit a purple patch of form (four goals, three assists in Leagues Cup play) and became something of Messi’s running mate up front.

And the strong performances of 18-year-old Benjamin Cremaschi, an Argentine-American local kid living out his dream in real time, were given a massive platform as well. He debuted for the USA national team in September.

Messi has a way of elevating those around him – even off the field.

Beyond his stellar play, perhaps the greatest marker of the ‘Messi Effect’ was Miami’s growth on social media, as it became more followed than every NFL, MLB, NHL and fellow MLS club in the 24 hours after he announced his move to South Florida.

The club now has a staggering 15.4million Instagram followers, dwarfing the likes of the New York Yankees (3.3million) and Boston Celtics (7.7million).

Messi’s league campaign was ultimately derailed by injury – and the club’s last-place standing before he arrived – as Miami failed to make the playoffs.

But the weeks that followed still served as a reminder of Messi’s greatness and global prestige.

He flew to Paris in late October with his family to scoop up his eighth Ballon D’or, with Miami later staging a ‘Noche d’Or’ friendly vs. NYCFC to celebrate his achievement.

Robert Taylor enjoyed a purple patch over the summer and saw his profile boosted by Messi

Antonela Roccuzzo and Messi with sons Thiago, Mateo and Ciro attend the 67th Ballon d’Or

Messi led Argentina to a World Cup title in Qatar, as they defeated France on penalties

Messi holds the Ballon d’Or – his eighth – after beating the competition at ceremony in Paris

Messi winning the award after spearheading Argentina’s first World Cup win since 1986 was not a massive shock. But for Miami, it was a moment to take stock of its place in the footballing world.

The best player in the world resides in South Florida, and that has certainly opened up some doors.

The club will now be going to Hong Kong before the next campaign, and will also face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr as well as Al-Hilal.

It doesn’t matter how Messi performs in those contests, or even how many minutes he plays. What matters is this: the Herons have established themselves as a global brand in a way that no other MLS rival has – all thanks to their diminutive playmaker.

With the No. 10 donning Miami’s trademark pink for at least two more seasons, that won’t change anytime soon.

Now, with a World Cup, ten La Liga titles and a Leagues Cup title in the bag, we’ll soon find out if he can bring his club to MLS’ summit.


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