What must it feel like to be a player for Inter Miami CF in the last days before The Coming?
For years, David Beckham and the Mas brothers have declared their intention to make Club Internacional de Futbol Miami a world-class organization; until June 7, only the most optimistic Herons fans believed it could happen. But since that day, everything has changed.
On that day, the greatest soccer player of this generation, maybe any generation, announced that he would come to the United States to play in Major League Soccer. For La Rosanegra. And suddenly, anything is possible.
Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who coached Messi at Barcelona and with the Argentina national team, who led Atlanta United and current Miami striker Josef Martinez to an MLS Cup championship in 2018, suddenly is coaching the Pink and Black.
Suddenly, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, Messi’s teammates at Barcelona on what are considered among the greatest club teams of all time, will be joining him in South Florida. Suddenly, the entire soccer world is waiting to see what Inter Miami will do next.
Meanwhile, the players actually under contract to Inter Miami are struggling through yet another challenging season. Four starters — Gregore, Corentin Jean, Jean Mota and Franco Negri — will miss most of the season with major foot and knee injuries. Defenders Deandre Yedlin (USA) and Kamal Miller (Canada) are away with their national teams. Promising young Ecuadorian striker Leonardo Campana missed the start of the season with a muscle injury, and newcomer Martinez has been inconsistent.
The Herons are in the Eastern Conference cellar, nine points shy of a playoff position with 14 matches remaining. They struggle to score and, playing castoffs and youngsters, sometimes out of their natural positions, have made costly errors defensively.
But this squad has character; they play hard, and they play for each other. They formed bonds a year ago when, despite having to almost completely rebuild the squad because of financial sanctions, they made a late run to the playoffs.
What are these guys thinking? They’re excited, of course, to play beside men of such caliber, but it must be difficult to hear the praise and adulation and expectations for Messi & Co., the anticipated saviors and new faces of Inter Miami — not because of anything they’ve done in a Herons jersey, but because of what the current players haven’t done. Because of the names on their jerseys, not the sweat soaked into them.
It will be critical that the new coach, Martino, and the new players integrate themselves into the Inter Miami locker room; share their knowledge and experience, mentor the younger players, make an effort to be part of the team.
The new players will have better resumes, more celebrity and vastly greater salaries than the current Herons. If they choose to be aloof and standoffish, if they become a locker room clique, the “stars” in their own minds, their presence could be more distraction than attraction.
Current players don’t get a pass, either; they need to embrace this opportunity to play with and learn from some of the very best. There is no room for jealousy and resentment; make peace with the fact that the Barcelona trio have had vastly different experiences and should perhaps be forgiven the occasional condescension.
If Tata, Messi, Alba and Busquets can build a winning culture in Miami, if our young players adopt and commit to that culture, and if the team can thrive together, ownership might just realize there goal.
Inter Miami could become a truly global brand.
Who knows? Since June 7, anything is possible.