On Wednesday night, Lionel Messi confirmed in an interview with Mundo Deportivo that he is close to a move stateside, joining Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, to give them their full name.
This is a massive coup, not just for Inter Miami but for MLS, the biggest signing in the history of American soccer since Pelé joined New York Cosmos in 1975, even surpassing David Beckham’s move to LA Galaxy.
So who are Inter Miami? Are they any good? Where do they play? Who is their manager? Do they have any recognisable players? Have they ever won a trophy? All these questions and more will be answered below.
A brief history of Inter Miami’s brief history
Inter Miami played their first-ever match in March 2020, featuring in only two games before the entire league shutdown for four months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In their expansion season, they finished 19th in the overall standings, before coming 20th in 2021 and then 12th last season.
They made their debut in the play-offs proper back in October, but were smashed 3-0 by NYCFC in the first round.
How are Inter Miami doing this season?
The short answer to that is not good at all.
The Herons are rock bottom of the overall standings having won five and lost 11 matches so far.
This weekend’s trip to New England will mark the half-way mark of the regular season and, despite the fact 62% of teams now get into the play-offs, they’re already six points below the all-important dotted line.
As a result of this, manager Phil Neville was sacked last week, with Javier Morales, who’d been an academy coach at the club, currently in interim charge.
It’s been widely reported that Tata Martino is set to take over, having previously been Lionel Messi’s manager for both Barcelona and Argentina, before winning MLS Cup with Atlanta United.
Back in 2013, Messi requested to then Barça president Sandro Rosell that Martino should be his manager, and it appears something similar has happened a decade later.
Where do Inter Miami play?
Inter Miami currently play home matches at DRV PNK Stadium (no vowels allowed).
It cost $60 million to build and has a capacity of just 18,000, making it a similar size to Millwall’s the Den, Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park, Getafe’s Coliseum Alfonso Pérez or Monza’s Stadio Brianteo.
This is supposed to be a temporary facility, with the club aiming to move into Miami Freedom Park by the start of the 2025 season.
However, construction on the site of the old Melreese Golf Course only began in March this year, so they’ll be stuck playing at their ‘temporary’ home in Fort Lauderdale for a little while longer.
Although, and this is just speculation, it would not surprise anyone one bit if, now that Messi has arrived, they at least tried to move some games to Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, especially during the summer, with the new NFL season not starting until September.
With a capacity of 64,000, this is much more what Messi is used to, while Hard Rock Stadium will be one of the venue for the 2026 World Cup.
When can Lionel Messi make his Inter Miami debut?
MLS’ secondary transfer window officially opens on 5 July, so Messi certainly will not be taking to the field before then.
Inter Miami are currently scheduled to host Columbus Crew on 4 July so, cynically, that game could be pushed back 24 hours.
After that, the Herons travel to D.C. United on 8 July before welcoming expansion club St. Louis City to the Sunshine state on 15 July.
Which trophies could Lionel Messi win with Inter Miami?
On Wednesday night, mere hours after Messi’s announcement, his future teammate beat Birmingham Legion 1-0 in the U.S. Open Cup quarter-finals.
They’ll now face current Eastern Conference leaders FC Cincinnati in the semis on 23 August, with either a bang-average Real Salt Lake or a generally poor Houston Dynamo awaiting in the final on 27 September.
So, Messi is just two wins away from adding the U.S. Open Cup to his silverware collection, and claiming Inter Miami’s first-ever major trophy.
Aside from MLS, the other competition Miami will compete in is Leagues Cup, a brand new, month-long World Cup-style tournament taking place in the middle of the season, featuring all 47 MLS and Liga MX clubs.
Messi’s new team are in a group alongside Mexican heavyweights Cruz Azul and 2018 MLS champions Atlanta United, who they’ll face on 21 and 25 July respectively, needing to avoid finishing bottom to advance to the knockout stages.
It’s unlikely that any MLS team, let alone the one rock bottom, will win Leagues Cup on 19 August but, if anyone can drag Miami to glory, it’s surely Messi right?
Do Inter Miami have a good team?
The short answer to this is no, and there’s numerous complex reasons for this, relating to MLS roster rules.
In the past, Miami have had aging world-class stars Gonzalo Higuaín and Blaise Matuidi, as well as slightly less heralded players including Ryan Shawcross (remember him) and Kieran Gibbs.
Back in May 2021, MLS announced that they were sanctioning Inter Miami for breaking roster rules, in short because they had four designated players (DPs), when three is the maximum.
MLS fined them $2 million, their general allocation money was significantly reduced and both owner owner Jorge Mas and now former sporting director Paul McDonough were also sanctioned.
In order to comply with the rules, Matías Pellegrini, who they’d signed for $9 million, essentially had his contract terminated, and he now plays for NYCFC.
This time last year, Miami traded for star DP Alejandro Pozuelo from Toronto FC, and his arrival saw Higuaín rediscover his form, with the pair leading Miami into the play-offs, having been terrible beforehand.
During the off-season, Higuaín retired and Pozuelo was released, joining Konyaspor, essentially to ensure they had space, in the hope that Messi would become available.
They did sign Leonardo Campana from Wolves permanently, making him a DP, while Josef Martínez also arrived from Atlanta United.
Their other DP is Rodolfo Pizarro, who they paid $20 million to bring from Monterrey in 2020, but he doesn’t even start due to bad form, so they’re literally stuck with him, as no one will match his humungous $3.3 million annual salary.
Miami’s biggest problem though is that their two starting defensive midfielders are both out with long-term injuries.
Jean Mota ‘suffered an injury to his right lateral collateral ligament’ against Columbus in April, so is still sidelined for a few more months, while fellow Brazilian Gregore is out for the rest of 2023 with a foot issue.
This squad needs serious work and, given MLS’ stringent salary cap rules, that will not be easy.
There are reports that Sergio Busquets and Ángel Di María will be joining Messi in Miami, but that’s not as easy to make happen as some may make you think.
Although, MLS commissioner Don Garber has said in the past that the league could change the rules to ‘accommodate’ Messi, so perhaps numerous high-profile players will be arriving in the Sunshine state.