I searched — briefly, to be honest, but I did search — for a photo of Lionel Messi speaking to the media for this post. I couldn’ find one, but that’s OK.
Greg Cote, the award-winning sports columnist for the Miami Herald, on Friday opined that Messi’s reluctance to engage with the media is somehow shortchanging American soccer fans.
"…it is rather ludicrous. We are getting everything we could have imagined from Messi ... except his voice. Except a sense of who he is and what he’s thinking.”"- Greg Cote, Miami Herald
So far, so, so good
Lionel Messi has scored eight goals in four-and-a-half matches since arriving at Inter Miami, all Leagues Cup games, all victories. To put that in perspective, Inter Miami has won just five of 22 MLS matches in 2023 and has the league’s worst point total (180. He has elevated the profiles of Inter Miami, Major League Soccer, his Heron teammates, and every squad that he plays against.
According to some reports, Messi has doubled MLS Season Pass subscriptions. He has catapulted Inter Miami to the top of American sports teams’ social media mountain. And he generates revenue the equivalent of a small nation’s GDP for a wide range of businesses.
Perhaps more importantly, and more difficult to quantify, is the joy he brings grizzled soccer veterans and curious new fans alike. The great Brazilian star Pele is credited with dubbing soccer “the Beautiful Game;” Messi is one of very few players whose talent transcends sport to become art.
And, by all accounts, he is a humble, down-to-Earth guy, a good teammate and a good man.
Don’t mess with Messi’s success
Does he owe us “his voice”? Does he owe us a sense of who he is? He is a very gifted soccer player, a man who loves his family and the game, he’s a good role model and may just be the greatest player of all time. Do we need to know what he’s thinking? Sure, I’m as interested as anyone, but I also appreciate the importance of boundaries, of respecting privacy.
Americans aren’t the only sports fans who obsess over their idols, who eagerly digest every rumor, every Tweet or social media post or smidgeon of gossip, no matter how far-fetched…but, we do tend to be the only culture that expects — demands — virtually unlimited access to its celebrities.
"Messi is doing this because he is Messi. He is doing everything on the pitch we could possibly ask for. Now it’s time to ask for more. To ask it of Inter Miami, of MLS and of Miessi himself. "- Cote
In some situations, it will be important for Messi to speak — critical plays, the team’s progress, it’s success or failure. As the captain, representing the team to the media should be expected and Messi should be available. But at every practice or after every match or — heaven forbid — during matches? There is no valid reason to require him to answer to the media.
"American soccer and Miami have a once-in-a-lifetime gift in Lionel Messi. He has brought goals and excitement with him in abundance. But he has more to give. Let us hear what he thinks, in his own voice. Let us feel as if we know him a little better. It is not a lot, or too much, to ask."- Cote
Cote says media accessibility is not a lot to ask of Messi…but isn’t it? Messi IS “a once-in-a-lifetime gift” to American soccer. His choice to play at Inter Miami, as the U.S. prepares to host the World Cup in three years, could forever change the sport in our country.
And a key reason he chose Major League Soccer over truckloads of oil money in Saudi Arabia or an emotional reunion with Barcelona in Spain was the opportunity to live with something resembling normality; he wants to shop at Publix and take the family to dinner without being mobbed by adoring, well-meaning but entitled fans.
Professional athletes have some obligation to the team and it’s fans, but they still are paid primarily to help the team win. From that perspective, Messi is perfect thus far.
If letting Messi decide when and how he interacts with the media helps keep him content and the Herons winning, I’m all for it.
Vamos, La Rosanegra!