At long last, after five weeks, six games and nine goals with Inter Miami, Lionel Messi spoke to the media.
The Argentine icon, who does most of his communicating via social media to his 483 million followers, held a rare press conference Thursday afternoon as the team prepares for the inaugural Leagues Cup final Saturday on the road against Nashville SC.
Eighty media members who were granted in-person credentials packed the DRV PNK Stadium interview room for the occasion and many more monitored from around the world on Zoom. A severe thunderstorm, with heavy rain and wind, made arrival at the event a bit messy, but once inside, reporters and photographers hung on Messi’s every word during the 20-minute news conference.
He discussed his reason for coming to Inter Miami, the South Florida weather and the warm welcome he has received.
Then, in a one-on-one interview with the Miami Herald, Messi shared how he decides with whom to exchange jerseys after games, the genesis of his Marvel-themed goal celebrations, his relationship with Gonzalo Higuain, how he feels about driving in South Florida traffic, how often he vacationed in Miami before joining the team and how the local Latin community makes him feel at home.
After just one month with the club, Messi is in position to lead his new team to its first trophy.
Miami earned a berth in the championship game with a 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Union on Tuesday night. Messi scored the second goal of the night on a powerful strike from 30 yards out, his ninth goal in six games since arriving at the club on July 11.
Here is what Messi had to say...
Q: Your shirt is the most sought after in the world. How do you decide which players you will swap jerseys with after games? Is it true that Argentine players get priority? And what do you do with the shirts that you collect?
A: I simply exchange with whoever happens to be there at that moment. I have had a chance to play against teams that had Argentine players and generally we swap shirts, but I also exchanged shirts with players in Europe, players who I knew from before, it’s always nice to change shirts with friends or players I know. I have them all saved in my house in Barcelona where I have all the important mementos of my career.
Q: Did you talk to former Inter Miami Argentine star Gonzalo Higuain before making the decision to come here, and what advice did he give you?
A: I did speak to “El Pipa” before the World Cup and we stay in touch, but we had not talked about coming to MLS or living here because I had not made that decision yet. We spoke once I arrived and he told me a little more about the league, about the club and we are in continuous contact. We are friends and have a very good relationship.
Q: How do you like driving in Miami and how does South Florida traffic compare with traffic in Buenos Aires, Barcelona and Paris?
A: The big cities always have a lot of traffic. That was the case in Paris, too, in Buenos Aires and Barcelona. You need to have patience and tranquility, and also leave home a little earlier to make sure you get there on time.
Q: What is the genesis of your Marvel-themed goal celebrations? (Sidenote: Marvel, MLS and Adidas entered a partnership in late-June.)
A: My three sons are still on vacation, have not started school yet, so every night we watch Marvel superhero movies. They came up with the idea and asked that whenever I have a game and score a goal, I do a Marvel superhero celebration. That’s how it started, and we continued that ritual. Each time we watched a new movie, we would practice a goal celebration. But I only do them for home games, when the kids are here, near me, so we can share those moments. When I see them in the stands, that is when I do them.
Q: How often did you vacation in Miami before joining the club, and when was the first time you visited the city?
A: I had been to Miami several times. The first time I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was to play a friendly game. I also have been here with my family.
Q: You obviously knew that South Florida has a huge Latin American population, but has it surprised you just how Hispanic this community is?
A: I am not surprised because I had been here, I knew it was like that, the number of Latinos here, and it is a beautiful thing to be able to live among them now. To be able to enjoy the games with the fans here who fill the stadium. Us Latin people are very fanatical and passionate about what we love, and we demonstrate that in our day-to-day lives. I feel at home here.
Q: How has it been to adapt to the climate and to perhaps having to play on artificial turf?
A: “It’s very, very hot and very humid, but to be honest it has been a quick adaptation. Right now, I am feeling very comfortable. I’ve talked to friends who have been here their whole lives and even they suffer and don’t get used to it. As for artificial grass, I played on it during my youth, it’s been a long time since I’ve played on it, but I don’t have a problem playing on that kind of surface.”
Q: How has the adjustment been to the league and to life in America?
A: “People in this city and this club have made it easy for us. The fans, the people that I meet every day on the streets… It’s a spectacular city, and that’s why I am happy. We are in that adaptation period, we don’t have a house yet, the kids are going to school soon, and that will help us get used to daily life. It’s been much easier than we thought. The move from Barcelona to Paris was somewhat complicated, but this has been easy.”
Q: What went into your decision to come to Inter Miami?
A: “It was a family decision, with my wife and kids. And I can tell you today I am very happy with the decision we made, not only from a sporting perspective, but for how my family lives every day. We are enjoying the city which has been very welcoming. Not only in Miami, but we played in Dallas the other day, and the people welcomed me and embraced me, and I am grateful and happy for this moment because I’m enjoying playing this game I have loved all my life.