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  • Writer's pictureLucas Delgado

Inter Miami CF Struggle Throughout Much Anticipated Preseason Tour

Losses, Injuries and Controversies Highlight a Messy Start to 2024

By: Lucas Delgado

February 20, 2024

Photo Credit:  Justin Chin/Bloomberg

In July of 2023, Lionel Messi - a man hailed by many as the greatest soccer player of all time thanks to his legendary career with FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, and the Argentinian national team - agreed to a lucrative two-and-a-half year contract with MLS club Inter Miami CF. In the days following this major announcement, Messi’s former FC Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, and manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino also joined the club, supplementing a team in the midst of their weakest start to a season in the club’s short existence. The rejuvenated squad achieved a mixed level of success, winning the newly formed Leagues Cup and making the final of the US Open Cup, but failing to qualify for the MLS Playoffs. In the offseason, Inter Miami was able to secure another former teammate of Messi’s: star striker Luis Suarez. With their new pieces intact and Inter Miami opening as the predominant favorites to win this year’s MLS Cup, the team was looking to use this newfound brand awareness to enjoy an unforgettable international preseason tour. As it turned out, the tour was certainly unforgettable… but not for the reasons they were hoping for.

Their preseason started with a 0-0 draw against the El Salvador national team in San Salvador, which was succeeded by a 1-0 loss against FC Dallas in the historic Cotton Bowl stadium. However, it was the team’s journey to Saudi Arabia that really saw the fortunes of the tour take a turn for the worst. After a tight 4-3 defeat against Saudi Pro League side Al Hilal, Messi reported feeling groin discomfort which would worsen during a training session two days later. He would soon receive an MRI, and was initially left out of the squad for a matchup with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr before being added to the bench. The highly anticipated showdown between generational stars (Messi and Ronaldo) ended up with no involvement from an injured Ronaldo and just ten minutes of a laboring Messi, as Al-Nassr won in a 6-0 landslide. The team then traveled to Hong Kong for a matchup with the Hong Kong national team, earning their first win of the tour in a dominant 4-1 showing. Despite the Inter Miami victory, this match would become the tour’s biggest source of controversy, as Messi’s omission from the game became the main focus.

Both Messi and Luis Suarez watched the win from the sidelines, and the fans in attendance were quick to express their discontent with what they saw as a gross example of false advertising. Attendees were heard chanting for refunds and asking where Messi was, with a fan even being caught on video vandalizing a cardboard cutout of Messi in the stadium. One attendee, Hong Kong resident Ada Kam, expressed his discontent in a CNN interview, saying that he felt "a bit scammed by [Inter Miami] because we paid, and I think most people pay, to see Messi, and it was advertised almost exclusively that Messi was going to play.” Even the Hong Kong government was angered by the event, claiming that the government and fans “are extremely disappointed about the organizer’s arrangement," and that "the organizer owes all football fans an explanation.” The decision’s ramifications even spilled into the international soccer scene, as the Beijing Football Association - Chinese soccer’s governing body - has canceled the Argentina national team’s upcoming tour of mainland China in response to Messi not playing against Hong Kong. The backlash worsened days later, as Messi - in spite of these injury claims - took the field for thirty minutes in a game Inter Miami lost on penalties against Japanese club Vissel Kobe. 

Those associated with Inter Miami seemed apologetic in light of the situation. Coach Tata Martino gave his perspective on Messi and Suarez sitting out, explaining that he understands “a lot of fans are very disappointed and we ask for their forgiveness. We wish we could have sent Leo and Luis on for at least a while, but the risk was too big.” Messi himself expressed disappointment at his inability to play due to injury, but had a more optimistic outlook on returning to Hong Kong, stating, "I hope we can return and we can play another game and I can be present… it is a shame that I was not able to participate.” Still, as the MLS season looms closer and closer, Inter Miami will have to leave this shaky preseason behind them and prove that the enormous expectations for the club are justified.


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