When David Beckham bought a Major League Soccer franchise, he announced his ambition to create a global brand similar to Manchester United, Real Madrid and other large clubs with whom he played before coming to the Los Angeles Galaxy a quarter-century ago.
Nobody really took that seriously, even when MLS approved his locating his team in Miami, on of America's most cosmopolitan and glamorous cities; not even when he brought in billionaire investors Jorge and Jose Mas.
And especially not as Club Internacional de Futbol Miami when it stumbled out of the gate with poor performances on the field and in its financial dealings, falling afoul of the league's salary restrictions by "hiding" extra designated player contracts. The ambitious experiment started with league-record financial penalties forcing it to almost completely rebuild its roster.
But Beckham and the Mas brothers never wavered from their promise: Inter Miami would succeed, and succeed on a spectacular scale starting by signing the best player in the world.
Nobody took that seriously, either, until June 7, 2023, when Lionel Messi announced he would reject hundreds of millions of dollars offered by Saudi Arabia and forsake a return to his beloved Barcelona to sign a 30-month contract with MLS and Inter Miami.
It's too soon to pass final judgment, but three months after Messi's announcement, the soccer world -- and the non-soccer world, it seems -- are taking Inter Miami seriously. The Herons haven't lost since Messi and former Barcelona teammates Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets signed with La Rosanegra, construction finally has begun on Miami Freedom Park, a billion-dollar, mixed-use development that will include the Herons' new 25,000-seat, state-of-the-art soccer-specific stadium, and fans across the United States and around the world are buying the Messi-led Pink and Black.
Even Argentina, a nation with a proud and robust soccer tradition, is not immune to Messi-mania in its new bright-pink form. Messi, of course, was the hero of the nation's third World Cup championship, elevating him to near-god status (Diego Maradona, another Argentinian soccer legend, is the focus of a parody religion, Iglesia Maradoniana), but Inter Miami has several coaches and players with Argentine connections, including head coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino. Messi and Martino both were born in Rosario, a suburb of Buenos Aires.
"The moment I realized how big this really is is when I saw kids on the streets of my country [Argentina] with the Inter Miami jersey which is completely mental for a country that lives and breathes football and has its own massively popular teams in the national league. That's the power of Messi. It's a complete revolution for football in the U.S."- u/Max_88 on Reddit
Fernando Romero Nunez wrote about Inter Miami's atmospheric trajectory in an article for the Buenos Aires Herald: "How Messi made Inter Miami America's team (and everyone else's.)"
"In a few short weeks, the Argentine star has not only transformed his club into a national powerhouse but also made its games appointment viewing for football lovers across the globe — something previously unfathomable for fans of Major League Soccer."- Fernando Romero Nunez
Can Beckham translate Messi's popularity into loyal support for Inter Miami CF? It seems unlikely; some players truly do transcend the sport. But I'm learning to take the club's ownership seriously and, I have to admit, it's exciting to see what might happen.