A pregame ceremony came to an end as fireworks lit up the sky, and Lionel Messi held the Ballon d’Or over his head. And with that, Inter Miami CF was able to honor the best player in the game one final time in 2023.
In a friendly match versus New York City FC on Friday night, Messi represented his Major League Soccer team on the pitch. The game was organized to celebrate his seventh Ballon d’Or victory, which is given to the best player in the league each year, at a black-tie event in Paris last month. That accolade has never been won by another player more than five times.
Miami lost 2-1 despite Messi playing the entire game against NYCFC. For New York, Talles Magno and Julián Fernández scored goals. With ten minutes remaining, Robert Robinson, a replacement for Miami, gave the home team its lone goal.
Messi crossed the field to midfield on a gold carpet, holding the trophy in his left hand. MLS Commissioner Don Garber was among those waiting for Messi to arrive for a little pregame ceremony. As the stadium erupted, he gave Garber, Inter Miami owners Jorge and Jose Mas, an embrace before raising the trophy.
“It’s beautiful to share it with you all,” Messi said. “I’ve been here for a short time, but it seems like a long time.”
Here’s how significant the occasion was: Garber even took out his smartphone to capture the moment.
“You, Inter Miami fans, have the best player who’s ever played the game,” Garber said. “The winner of his eighth Ballon d’Or, the guy who lifted as captain the Leagues Cup for your team, thank you Leo for your belief in Major League Soccer and making your club and your league a league of choice.”
It was the ideal way to cap off Messi’s first four months of official club membership: Year 1 began with an on-field celebration and concluded with a celebration that hinted at Year 2.
“He’s the main star of this match and we want to join him celebrating his eighth Ballon d’Or,” Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said. “It’s an opportunity also for us to compete. Even if it’s a friendly it’s an opportunity for the people and the fans to see Leo and his teammates on the field and say goodbye to the year.”
Messi played the entire game against NYCFC, but Miami came up short, 2-1. For New York, Talles Magno and Julián Fernández scored goals. With ten minutes remaining, Robbie Robinson, a replacement from Miami, awarded the home team its lone goal.
At least on home ground, it was an added opportunity for a dieu. The home schedule for Inter Miami was finalized almost three weeks prior, and Messi was not in action on that particular night as he had recently returned from two World Cup qualifiers with Argentina.
This month, Inter Miami was scheduled to play two games in China; however, the team announced that the trip had been postponed due to “unforeseen circumstances.” After things didn’t work out, Inter Miami decided to try again and convinced NYCFC to play the exhibition. Messi arrived at the team facilities the morning after winning the Ballon d’Or in Paris and spent the majority of the last two weeks exercising with the team.
“I would like to thank all the people of Miami, not just the ones here in the stadium,” Messi said. “The treatment for myself and my family … you’ve made me feel at home.”
Messi is expected to play at least twice more in 2023. Argentina’s World Cup qualifying matches are scheduled for November 16 in Buenos Aires against Uruguay and November 21 in Rio de Janeiro against Brazil.
With the possibility of an MLS regular season commencing in late February, the team will probably start practicing for 2024 in January. Inter Miami, which won the Leagues Cup, its first-ever prize, soon after signing Messi this summer, will have a busy year. In addition to the MLS schedule in 2024, the team will participate in that competition in addition to the U.S. Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
“I have no doubt…that next year will be much better,” Messi said. “We will continue enjoying and try to win more titles, and I hope that you are with me.”
This week, Martino was questioned about what motivates Messi. The optimum response, according to him, would be Messi’s practice-level competitiveness.
“If you saw those, you wouldn’t even have to ask the question,” Martino said. “You would just see right away what I mean.”
In several sports, there are discussions about which player is the greatest of all time, or GOAT. LeBron James or Michael Jordan play basketball. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are golf’s icons. In men’s tennis, there is Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer. Certain sports seem to make things simple: Despite any bias towards the present, it’s difficult to argue against gymnast Simone Biles, swimmer Michael Phelps, or swimmer Katie Ledecky.
There might be a debate about soccer still. However, eight Ballon d’Or trophies definitely tip the scales in Messi’s favor.
Of the debate, Inter Miami forward Benjamin Cremaschi said, “I believe it’s over.” The 18-year-old Cremashi wasn’t even 2 months old when Messi scored his first official goal for Barcelona in 2005. “He’s proved that for the last 18 years. I think he is the best player in the world, the best player in history. And I don’t know if many people disagree. It’s obviously a little bit biased, but from what I’ve seen, I haven’t seen anyone better yet.”