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Inside Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami debut…a god in Southern Florida

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Amidst the fervor of Lionel Messi’s MLS debut with Inter Miami, it was funny to recall that this Leagues Cup kickoff had been set long before he had announced his intentions to come to America—and that, however small their numbers, there would be fans attending the match who had simply intended to show up to support Cruz Azul.

“When I heard they were coming I thought, Oh, I’ll just buy tickets later on,” Diana del Valle, a supporter for the Liga MX club, admitted when we chatted in the DRV PNK Stadium stands in Ft. Lauderdale. She did, albeit at a substantially higher price than anticipated: Inter Miami tickets haven’t exactly been hot ones over the club’s time in the league, the club’s middling-at-best performance and temporary stadium located well outside of the city hardly providing incentive for the city to show out. But that changed immediately upon the news of Messi’s signing. Resale tickets to the Cruz Azul faceoff were rumored to be selling for tens of thousands of dollars, with some tickets listed in the six-figure range.

For everyone in attendance, it was worth the money. Cruz Azul may be del Valle’s club, but she’s been a fan of Messi long enough to have once flown to Barcelona to see him play at the club’s legendary 100,000-capacity Camp Nou. On Friday she joined a crowd of merely 20,000 to see the greatest soccer player of all time take the pitch in a makeshift stadium with fold-out bleachers 45 minutes from Miami’s bustling center. From billion-dollar sportswear brands to hometown fans, the collective consensus seemed to be that whatever credit card charges racked up for this were next week’s problems.

The club’s loyal fanbase, however, had little to worry about. Like most MLS clubs, Inter Miami boasts a loyal and fervent band of supporter squads that show out for every game—and almost certainly had their tickets locked in long before Messi’s arrival to the States. A couple hundred fans flocked to Domino Park in Little Havana the day before the match at the height of South Beach’s midday heat and humidity. They banged drums and shouted along to the club’s signature chants and songs, almost all of which are performed in Spanish. Chris Moramarco, one of the founders of supporter squad Vice City 1896, confessed that this moment validated years spent building a community around a team that hadn’t so much as played a scrimmage. “At first people didn’t know what we were lining up to do. There was no team, no colors, no logo. But we were there,” he explained.

“We’d heard for years [Messi] might be coming but we had our doubts it was ever going to happen.” Even after seeing him in the stadium the Sunday prior for his contract signing, Moramarco admits, he didn’t think it would sink in until he took the field for the first time. In just a day’s time, the club’s faithful would finally be rewarded.

Shocks of neon pink and black, the club’s official colors, littered the streets and beaches alike as fans flocked in on relatively short notice for the match. Billboards and bus signs bearing the simple image of the GOAT in his new hot pink jersey, with MESSI spray-painted across the graphic, were littered throughout the town. Those same jerseys flew off the racks of Adidas and Inter Miami team stores across town rapidly.

Online orders caused an unprecedented surge in demand so severe Adidas now may be fulfilling backlogged sales through October. There are worse positions to be in than stocking the hottest jersey in professional sports, though, and the brand celebrated their signature athlete’s arrival in town with a bombastic oceanfront stunt involving a shipping barge, helicopters, speedboats, and yachts.

But before there was a press conference or a contract signing or even so much as an Instagram post from Inter Miami (whose follower count ballooned from 1 million to 12 million in days after it was revealed Messi would join the club), there was Publix.

Last week, GOAT was spotted in the popular Florida grocery chain–a destination for cheap beach toys, spray-on sunscreen, and the store’s signature PubSub sandwich. He was, by all accounts, largely left alone as he browsed the aisles with his family and let his kids pick out some cereal. A few selfies were taken. He did not order a PubSub.

It is as fitting a public debut as a Florida athlete could have. Miami, for all its allure as a beachfront playground, is still Florida, and if you are a Floridian you must go to Publix. And now—as unlikely as it seems—Lionel Messi is officially a Floridian.

And on Friday night, he made his debut as an MLS player. The Florida sun dove past the western skyline as fans filed into the bleachers, the option to arrive late for the 8PM kickoff not an option. Becky G performed the national anthem as LeBron, Kim Kardashian, and Serena Williams greeted the GOAT near the bench.

Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham sat pitchside with his family. Several of the most famous people in the world had congregated in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on a Friday night for this.

It must be noted here that Inter Miami is…bad. They’re very bad. When Messi signed his contract, they were in last place in the MLS Eastern Conference. It’s not news, either—this is a section of the standings they’ve occupied since their debut.

The team frequently looked adrift in the first half of the match ahead of their new forward’s debut. The heroics of goaltender Drake Callender saved the team from disaster, keeping a 1-0 lead at the half.

And then, nine minutes into the second half, Lionel Messi took the field. He did so in a round of substitutions that included his longtime Barcelona brother Sergio Busquets, who joined Miami with Messi after nearly 500 appearances with his home club. The long-simmering tension in the crowd finally boiled over, Cruz Azul fans joining Miami’s in rapturous applause. Two minutes later Messi’s first substantial push upfield garnered the sort of crowd response usually reserved for postseason buzzer beaters.

It is hard to say if Miami became substantially better when Messi’s boots touched the pitch. What was instantly notable was the degree to which the team settled into a sense of calm. The GOAT drove towards the goal and made attempts when the moments presented themselves, but he spent much of his time on the field setting up plays for his teammates.

Given the context, it was hard not to think of Messi’s accomplishments: Four-time winner of the Champions League. Ten La Liga titles. Seven Ballon d’Or trophies, given to the best soccer player in the world every year. Three Club World Cups and seven Copa del Rey trophies, plus an Olympic gold medal. And just last summer, one spectacular World Cup win that rendered most any argument against his status as the greats of all time moot.

What’s left? Well, lifting a struggling team out of the basement in the American soccer league—and lifting that league out of its own basement in the process—would count as an accomplishment.

What he accomplishes in Miami will have ramifications throughout Major League Soccer. The club’s success is the league’s success. He no longer competes for a cup but rather creation, for a new era of football built in his shadow, if not his image (at 36 years old, he can hardly have an MLS run of the same length as his time at Barcelona). To simply win is the work of mortals. The divine are in the business of genesis.

And spectacle. With the match tied up in two minutes of stoppage time, he secured a free kick. Lionel Messi lined up behind the ball, and sent it curving toward the goal. As it did 474 times in his days at Barcelona, the ball found the back of the net. After briefly celebrating with his new teammates, he ran to the sidelines to hug his children. Stoppage time ran out. The match was over. Beckham shed a tear. Messi smiled. There is much to be done in Southern Florida. Lionel Messi is ready to get to work.

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 Lamine Yamal gets new jersey number at Barcelona

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Hours after reports emerged regarding Lamine Yamal’s new shirt number at Barcelona, the club have officially confirmed that the teenage sensation will wear the No. 19 jersey next season.

The 17-year-old wonderkid wore No. 27 last season as he was still with a youth contract at the club.

But earlier this month, Barça confirmed his official registration as a first-team member with La Liga, which warranted a new squad number for the youngster.

There were speculations that Yamal could wear the No. 10 shirt but he has opted against it out of respect for Ansu Fati, who is back at Barça after a loan stint.

There was talk of him taking the No. 17 shirt vacated after Marcos Alonso’s exit, but Yamal has opted for No. 19 – a shirt that a certain Lionel Messi also wore in the early stages of his career at Barcelona.

Vitor Roque wore it briefly last season after arriving in January. Prior to that, players like Franck Kessie, Ferran Torres, Sergio Aguero, and Martin Braithwaite donned the No. 19 kit.

Yamal wore No. 19 with the Spanish national team as they won the UEFA Euro 2024 in Germany last week and will now wear it with the club as well.

With Yamal now taking over the No. 19 kit, Roque will have to change his shirt number, provided that he stays amid rumours of a departure.

 

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Luka Modric, 38, signs new Real Madrid contract

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Real Madrid extended Luka Modric’s contract on Wednesday, bringing the Croatia midfielder back for a 13th season with the club.

Madrid said it and Modric agreed to extend the player’s contract until June 2025.

One of Madrid’s captains, Modric didn’t play as often as a starter this season but is expected to have a greater role in Carlo Ancelotti’s midfield after the retirement of Toni Kroos.

He has won 26 titles with Madrid, the most in club history along with defender Nacho Fernández. Among those are six Champions Leagues and four Spanish leagues.

“Modric arrived at Real Madrid in 2012, and in his 12 seasons representing our shirt he has become a Real Madrid and world football legend,” Madrid said.

Modric won won the Ballon d’Or, the FIFA Player of the Year Award and was named UEFA Player of the Year in 2018, when he led Croatia to a runner-up finish at the World Cup.

Modric has made 178 appearances with Croatia and is the nation’s all-time record-holder for international caps. He has made 534 appearances for Madrid, having scored 39 goals.

 

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Inside Gareth Southgate’s decision to quit as England boss after Euro 2024 nightmare

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Albeit briefly, there was a theory that Gareth Southgate might stay on after all.‌ Let’s not forget this was the manager who had led England

Albeit briefly, there was a theory that Gareth Southgate might stay on after all.

‌Let’s not forget this was the manager who had led England to their first ever major final on foreign soil and the Football Association were desperate for him to remain in charge. And then came the fall-out. You would have to have been marooned on Mars to have avoided it.

The anger, bile and disappointment in the wake of England’s defeat in the Euros final. There was no way back. Southgate had insisted he was going to talk things through with his family on Monday night as he was in no mood to make a snap decision.

By 11am on Tuesday, the farewell statements were issued. Never mind that Southgate, in his eight years in charge, had gone to the latter stages of more tournaments than Sir Bobby Robson, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle combined.

‌Or that Southgate had won nine knockout games during his tenure when England had won a grand total of seven in their previous years. England expects. And that is why they call it the Impossible Job.

No manager since Sir Alf Ramsey has come closer to ending 58 years of hurt than Southgate. England’s men have won just one major trophy – the 1966 World Cup at Wembley – and yet they were expected to play Spain off the park, win it in style and then lift the World Cup in two years’ time.

Instead, Southgate was accused of being over cautious, restricting world class talents like Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane and Phil Foden and holding England back. Holding them back? They have quickly forgotten the failures of the Golden Generation when Sven Goran Eriksson could not get past the quarter final stage with Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Gary Neville, Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand.

‌The players who flopped in major tournaments in the 1970s, 80s and 90s are the same ones who are now on TV slamming Southgate. This has been a golden era for England under Southgate. But, in reality, Southgate should have gone after Qatar. That was in his head.

It turned sour after Hungary in the Nations League at Molineux. He nearly announced in the autumn of 2022 he was going after the World Cup – and changed his mind. He then did soul searching after Qatar, thought about going and then decided to stay.

‌Looking at his body language in Germany, he was every bit as tired and exhausted as some of his players in the Euros. Just look at the season Declan Rice has had. Was he at his best? Of course not. He was shattered.

‌The same goes for Southgate who had reached the end of his tether. Going into the tournament, those around the camp felt he was going come what may. Then the conversation was that if he won it, he might yet stay on and oversee the World Cup.

That proved to be hypothetical in the end. But I think he would have quit even if they had won the Euros. Or, put another way, especially if they had won the Euros. What a chance to say: thanks, we did it – and now two fingers up to you lot!

The England job is so tough and unforgiving. Even in his departure, Southgate showed class by singling out the England fans – some of them have pilloried him, others have chucked beer cups and yet, ultimately, we are all them. Including Southgate.

‌Southgate said in his statement : “We have the best fans in the world, and their support has meant the world to me. I’m an England fan and I always will be. I look forward to watching and celebrating as the players go on to create more special memories and to connect and inspire the nation as we know they can.”

‌Southgate has done a remarkable job in his 102 games in charge. Summed up in his statement as he bid his farewells.‌ He added: “I have had the privilege of leading a large group of players in 102 games.

“Every one of them has been proud to wear the Three Lions on their shirts, and they have been a credit to their country in so many ways. The squad we took to Germany is full of exciting young talent and they can win the trophy we all dream of.

‌“I am so proud of them, and I hope we get behind the players and the team at St. George’s Park and The FA who strive every day to improve English football, and understand the power football has to drive positive change.”

-Mirror Football

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