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Are Inter Miami even ready for Lionel Messi’s arrival?

Inter Miami have put a lot of time and effort into the pursuit of Lionel Messi. Back when Messi left Barcelona in 2021, he had an offer from the South Florida franchise. Even before Inter Miami had entered Major League Soccer, the David Beckham-owned club sounded out the legendary Argentine over his interest in moving to the United States.

Messi is one of the few players who could move the needle for MLS in 2023. Inter Miami, however, are fully relying on him. In the midst of their fourth season as a club, they are in a state of arrested development and have been waiting for the arrival of the 35-year-old to build a team around.

And if recent reporting is to be believed, Messi has finally accepted the offer placed on the table by Inter Miami and MLS.

Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal offered Messi a €1 billion contract while the player himself wanted an emotional return to Barcelona. Many suspected that Inter Miami was Messi’s third choice. But with MLS reportedly tossing in an unprecedented revenue share on both tv rights and the league’s Adidas sponsorship, the pot was considerably sweetened. That was all in addition to his wages at Inter Miami and – potentially – an ownership stake in the club.

But even if the deal does go through, and the best player in the history of the sport makes the move to South Florida, Inter Miami might not be ready for his arrival.

The club is currently rooted to the foot of the Eastern Conference after a run of six straight league defeats. Phil Neville paid for this slump with his job, meaning Inter Miami are currently without a head coach to make their sales pitch to Messi now that he is finally choosing a new club after leaving Paris Saint-Germain.

“Phil has made a real contribution to the culture of our club with his qualities as a leader and knowledge as a coach,” Beckham said after the firing of Neville, a former teammate and close friend of his. “Sometimes in this game we have to make the toughest decisions and sadly we feel the time is right to make a change.”

There was, however, only so much Neville could do with Inter Miami’s current squad. They are saddled with a team that has been poorly constructed over a number of years dating back to when Blaise Matuidi was signed to a contract ultimately found to be in violation of league roster rules.

Josef Martinez was Inter Miami’s marquee signing ahead of the 2023 season, but the former Atlanta United striker has struggled to find form for his new team. Leonardo Campana has caught the eye a number of times this season, but the 22-year-old can’t do it all on his own in the attacking third of the pitch.

Messi will be dropped into a team where he would have no support system. The 35-year-old will be expected to win matches almost entirely on his own, and that sort of pressure might not be what he wants at this stage of his career. Inter Miami should have done a better job of building a team that could immediately find success with Messi in the fold.

Off the pitch, Inter Miami are a work-in-progress too. Not only is their team lopsided and unbalanced, they are playing at a temporary stadium in Fort Lauderdale. There are plans for a new $1 billion stadium to be built near Miami International Airport, but it won’t be until at least 2025 that Inter Miami can play there. 

The argument could be made that the arrival of Messi would be enough on its own to change the fortunes of Inter Miami on and off the pitch, but gone are the days in MLS when a single player could turn a losing team into a winning team. Los Angeles FC, for example, have Carlos Vela, and had Gareth Bale last season, but they also have a well-constructed roster and transfer strategy as a club.

Messi’s father, Jorge Messi, made clear his son’s desire to play for Barcelona again: “Of course, he [Messi] would love to return to Barcelona. I would like it too. We will see,” he said in a recent interview. By the sound of it, Barca couldn’t find the finances to re-sign Messi, and despite an existing relationship with the Argentine, Saudi Arabia’s coffers were not enough to lure the superstar – or perhaps more importantly, his family.

In the end, MLS joining Inter Miami’s sales pitch must have been enough to push the star to South Beach. Perhaps the arrival of the World Cup winner, the man viewed by many to be the undisputed best to ever play the game, will lift the club from its lowest ebb since becoming an MLS franchise.

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