Lionel Messi’s first Inter Miami press conference: What he said and what he meant

Inside a packed conference room at Inter Miami’s DRV Pink Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, a select group of local and international journalists gathered for Lionel Messi’s first news conference since signing with the club in July. Messi has been spectacular for Inter Miami during the team’s run to the final of the first expanded Leagues Cup, scoring nine goals and adding three assists in six matches. Alongside former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, plus the addition of manager Tata Martino, Messi has been the catalyst for an impressive turnaround for a club that sits last in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference standings.

Messi is also famously a man of few words.

When Messi walked into the room and saw the cameras and seated members of the press, he smiled awkwardly and stopped briefly, clearly surprised by the number of people who were there to record his every word.


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During the World Cup in Qatar last winter, a Messi news conference felt like a massive event. Reporters lined up nearly an hour before they started hoping to be let inside. FIFA press officers manned the entrances to the auditorium at the Qatar National Convention Center like private security at a dance club. Before Argentina’s opening group stage match against Saudi Arabia, some journalists were turned away due to capacity. When Messi walked in wearing Argentina national team gear, the clicking of the camera shutters filled the room. Some Argentine journalists clapped as they welcomed Messi to the podium. Others wept when he walked away.

On Thursday, the room was much smaller, and the mood much more calm. The clicking of the cameras had lessened. Messi was far more relaxed, too. The weight of the World Cup is now gone, and the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is simply excited to play football again, in a new country, a new city, and for a brand new club.

It wasn’t a World Cup press conference, but it was a historic moment for football in the United States. The best player in the world, an all-time great, would finally elaborate on his decision to come to MLS, with the world watching.

Here, The Athletic analyzes what Messi said and what he meant. Answers have been translated from Spanish.

Did he expect such a flying start to his Inter Miami career?

“Honestly, yes. I was very excited when I arrived. I was very happy and motivated to continue to earn positive results, the way that I have my entire career. It may be a surprise that we’re going to play a final to those who don’t watch us train every day. We had prepared for this. To try and compete and to win this title, because we felt we were capable of doing so. The team has grown so much, especially after Tata (Martino) came to the club. We’re very happy to have accomplished our first objective, which was to be among the three teams to qualify for next year’s CONCACAF (Champions Cup). Now we’re going to play in a final.”

Whether Messi is happy or not has been a topic of discussion his entire professional career. It makes absolute sense for most human beings to perform better when they’re happy, but for some reason, and perhaps due to his introverted nature, Messi’s happiness is determinant in his success. Clearly, Messi is very happy right now. He said so several times even as the questions about his happiness persisted on Thursday.

And why wouldn’t he be? He has led Inter Miami to their first-ever final (the club began MLS play in 2020) and he’s doing it with a wide smile on his face. We can put that topic to rest, for now.

Is Messi aware that he’s following Pelé and David Beckham as the next great ambassador for soccer in the U.S.?  

“I made this decision based on a lot of reasons. We thought about it, my wife and kids were part of the decision, my family in general. Honestly I don’t think (about growing the game, in that way.) I came here to play, to continue enjoying football, which is what I’ve loved my entire life. I can tell you that I’m very happy with the decision we’ve made, not only for the sporting side of things but also for my family, for the day-to-day, how we’ve enjoyed the city, the new experience.

“And the reception of the people in the city which has been extraordinary since day one. The treatment from people has been spectacular, even in Dallas. I’m grateful and happy for the moment that I’m living. More than anything, I’m happy to be able to keep doing what I’ve done my entire life.”

Messi may not think about being an ambassador like Pelé and Beckham, but he is. Whether it’s fair or not, Messi will have the responsibility to elevate the sport in the U.S. and help push MLS forward during perhaps the most important stretch in its 27-year history, with the Copa América, Club World Cup and men’s World Cup coming to the U.S. in 2024, 2025 and 2026, respectively.

MLS’s future growth potential not all on him though. The league’s front office and the league’s owners must come together to utilize Messi’s star power to truly change MLS for the better. Improving the quality of MLS is not a one-man show.

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Messi has followed Beckham as a soccer spokesperson in the U.S. (CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Tournament matches typically get tougher as the competition progresses. Considering Inter Miami’s latest results, a 4-0 win over Charlotte FC and a 4-1 over Philadelphia, how would you assess the quality of your opponents? 

“We knew from the start of the tournament that we were starting from scratch. A new manager had arrived. Me and other new players also arrived and we all adapted quickly thanks to the players who were already here. We knew that (Leagues Cup) would be an opportunity to change things at the club, based on where we are in the league standings. It was also an opportunity to establish new objectives, difficult objectives but ones that we were ready to compete for.

“We’ve competed against Mexican clubs, which have a lot of quality. (Liga MX) is a competitive league with some top players from around the world. The MLS teams showed that they have a lot of quality too and that today can compete head-to-head against Mexican sides. We have to take advantage of this and continue to grow and not settle with what we’ve earned up until now.”

MLS has taken shots from detractors around the world who believe that Messi has exploited the league’s lack of quality. But who has consistently stopped Messi, ever? He dominated La Liga for over a decade. That’s not likely to change in MLS. It is what it is.

On the other hand, there’s no doubt that MLS clubs are closing the gap on their Liga MX counterparts. While Leagues Cup has been deemed a tournament that favors MLS (the entire tournament was played in the U.S. and Canada), MLS teams have been performing steadily better in CONCACAF competitions. Regardless, the fact remains that MLS and Liga MX are both invested in hyping up the other. Both leagues want to benefit economically from each other and promote the rivalry that exists on the pitch between Mexico and the U.S.



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What has the spirit of the people in South Florida meant to you? 

“From the beginning, the way that I was welcomed was so impressive. It’s a city that has a lot of Latinos, which has made things easier as well. Latinos are more demonstrative. They’re friendlier. They’re always showing their affection. That’s what I think is the most important thing. It allows you to really enjoy what you do.

“I’m happy. I’m enjoying this new stage of my career. I’m enjoying the experience of living in this country. It was something that I have always thought about. I didn’t know when I would do it, but now I’m enjoying this moment.”

Messi was booed and jeered often by Paris Saint Germain supporters. It was an awkward situation that got worse after Argentina defeated France in the World Cup final. Messi was never truly accepted at PSG, and he wasn’t happy to be there either. In Miami, he’s a beloved icon again. There’s no longer a language barrier, and his family loves the city. It’s a perfect match.

Have you thought about potentially winning your eighth Ballon d’Or? 

“I’ve said this many times in my career: even though it’s a prestigious award, one of the top individual awards, I never gave it much quote-unquote importance. The most important thing for me has always been team awards. I was lucky to have accomplished everything in my career. After winning the World Cup, which is what I was missing, now I’m really not thinking about the (Ballon d’or.) … If I win it, great. If not, it’s fine. Now I have new objectives with this club. That’s why we came here. To help the club win titles, and personally for me, to continue to win trophies.”

That last line tells me that Messi would actually love to win an eighth Ballon d’Or. His teammates say that he’s obsessed with winning and that he’s highly competitive. It’s true that he has pretty much nothing left to win in football, but another Ballon d’Or would confirm (for those who doubt it) that Messi remains the best player on the planet.

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Messi’s Miami has yet to lose since he joined (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

How have you adapted to the physical demands of playing in South Florida? The heat, new teammates. And there’s been speculation about whether or not you’ll play on turf. 

“I was coming from a month or more of vacation. At first, it cost me a bit, the day-to-day, the training sessions and all of the games. It’s really hot, very humid during this time of year. Sometimes the heat has an effect on you.

“But honestly I’ve been adapting. I feel really comfortable. I don’t think you can ever adapt completely to this climate. I’ve spoken to teammates who have lived here their whole lives and they still suffer a bit. We’ve learned to play through it. I don’t have a problem with it, nor do I have any issues with artificial turf. I played on turf throughout my academy days. I’ve played on those pitches my entire life. It’s true that I haven’t played on turf in a very long time, but I have no problem adapting again.”

This was a big moment for MLS. Messi will play on turf. That hasn’t always been the case for big stars who come to the league. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thierry Henry, and Didier Drogba, Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta were given days off when their clubs traveled to MLS stadiums that use artificial turf. It’s a conundrum because the players make that decision to protect themselves. But players of that caliber, in this league, are the main attractions. And teams who welcome Inter Miami and Messi to their stadiums will make millions of dollars from ticket sales.

If Messi doesn’t show up, which is entirely possible even without turf as an issue, well, the league doesn’t want to see that take place. Inter Miami will travel to Atlanta United’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 16. It’s an NFL stadium with field turf, and the crowd that day is expected to surpass 70,000.



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You’re obviously very happy to be here. How will that impact your performance in Saturday’s final? 

“I’ve said this from the beginning. I chose this city. I wanted to be here. It was a decision that I made over time. It wasn’t a last-minute decision, which has made it easier on everyone. We’re where we want to be. It was our decision. When I left for Paris it was something that I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to leave Barcelona. That was a last-minute decision. I had to adapt to something new after living (in Barcelona) my entire life. It was difficult, both from the sporting side and living in a new city. What’s happening to me now is the complete opposite.”

It feels significant that Messi made it a point to elaborate on the toughest moment of his club career. Millions watched as Messi cried while he gave a hasty farewell speech to his Barcelona teammates. Days later he was in Paris, unexpectedly. To say “It’s our decision” felt deliberate.

How important is winning this first title for Inter Miami?

“For me, the fans and the club, everyone who is focused on becoming a big club, winning titles really helps. It would be incredible. It’s lovely how Inter Miami fans come to every game and motivate us. We played several games at home and the stadium was always packed. It’s a club that’s very young. To win our first trophy would be beautiful for everyone.”

A Leagues Cup win would give Inter Miami their first title, and Messi his 41st team trophy of his career. It’s a massive moment for Inter Miami because they’ve underachieved and underwhelmed before Messi came to the club. Leagues Cup isn’t a prestigious tournament; in fact, in Mexico it’s downright hated by sectors of the Liga MX fanbase. But Inter Miami see it as their opportunity to permanently change the direction of the club. Would you bet against Messi?

(Photo: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

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