Lionel Messi is still on track to make his Inter Miami debut this weekend.
The 36-year-old Argentine professional footballer remains on track for his MLS debut after coming through his first official training session with the MLS club on Tuesday.
Miami has long targeted Friday’s Leagues Cup opener against Mexican side Cruz Azul for the Argentine superstar to make his first appearance following his blockbuster move to South Florida.
It has been a whirlwind few days for Messi, with his signing on a 2 1/2 year contract that’ll pay him between $50 million and $60 million a year being confirmed Saturday before being unveiled in front of a sell-out crowd at Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale the following day.
After Messi trained alongside former Barcelona teammate and fellow new signing Sergio Busquets, Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham confirmed that he expects the World Cup winner to play some part in Friday’s game.
“We don’t know if Leo will start the game or whether he’ll come on, because I think at the end of the day, he needs to be ready,” Beckham told ESPN. “We need to protect him and make sure that he’s ready because he’s had a vacation.
“He’s now been in Miami for a week and he’s been training really hard and he looks great. So I think Leo and [head coach] Tata [Martino] will decide when he plays and when he comes on on Friday, but the atmosphere here will be incredible, and hopefully we get a win.”
On Tuesday, a helicopter hovered overhead, drones buzzed around the field and about 200 media members lined up toward the back of the complex to get a look at Messi. He, like Busquets, went through a welcome tunnel as part of the first practice, which meant jogging past teammates as they lined up and clapped.
“It’s like Michael Jordan going to play, you know, overseas,” Miami’s United States international defender DeAndre Yedlin said. “You know it’s like I said, it’s not something that I would have thought would have happened in my time playing. But I’m so glad that it did.”
More international stars could soon be joining Messi, with Inter Miami’s managing owner Jorge Mas saying Tuesday that former Spain left-back Jordi Aba was set to sign later in the day, while also confirming an interest in another of Messi’s former Barcelona teammates, striker Luis Suárez.
For now, though, Mas, who also expects Busquets to make his debut Friday, said he was looking forward to a momentous occasion for a team struggling at the bottom of MLS‘ Eastern Conference after 11 games without a win.
“Friday’s match against Cruz Azul will be a very important for us because we expect to have Lionel and Busi [Busquets] debuts,” he told ESPN. “We are looking to improve our level and aiming for better results. But we also need Lionel and Tata to feel good and help them to get acclimated to the city and club.
“I personally like that Messi’s first game is going to be against a team from Liga MX for a global audience, and I hope Mexico and the United States can enjoy and celebrate this historic occasion.”
Some tickets for the game are going for as little as $275 or so on the secondary market; some of the very best seats are exceeding $19,000. Prices have been fluctuating quite a bit and likely will continue doing so until game time.
Perhaps the most emotional member of the crowd will be Beckham himself, 16 years on from making his own historic move from Real Madrid to the LA Galaxy.
“I might actually cry when I see him walk onto the pitch,” Beckham told ABC‘s Good Morning America.
“I’ve realized as I get older I get more emotional. I look at my kids I get emotional, I talk to my kids and my wife I get emotional. So I think the moment i see Leo step out onto the pitch in front of our fans, in front of this nation … I don’t know, I’ll be emotional for sure.”