Lionel Messi will start on the substitutes’ bench for his first Inter Miami game at a sold-out DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Friday.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner was named on bench alongside fellow new signing and former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets for Miami’s opening Leagues Cup match against Mexican side Cruz Azul.
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Miami has long targeted Friday’s game for Messi to make his debut for the MLS side following his blockbuster arrival on a free transfer. He signed a 2½-year contract with Inter Miami that will pay him between $50 million and $60 million annually.
However, manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino had cautioned in the build-up to the match that both Messi and Busquets may not be fit enough to play from the start after only recently returning from vacation following the end of the European club season last month.
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“From what I have seen up to now they are going fit to play and it is likely that on Friday they can be there,” Martino told ESPN Fútbol 12 on Wednesday. “Whether that will be as starters or coming in at the half, we will have to make that decision yet, but as I see it, Leo as well as Busi can play [on Friday].”
Spain international Jordi Alba, the third former Barcelona player to join Miami this summer, was not named in the squad after his signing was only confirmed on Thursday.
Messi was introduced to his new home fans on Sunday and trained for the first time as a member of the club Tuesday. On Friday, he arrived with the team about two hours before game time, dressed in the team colors — pink T-shirt, black shorts. He stopped for a few photos and handshakes as he entered the tunnel leading to the locker room.
Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham was on the field about three hours before kickoff, taking a video with his phone as he scanned the empty seats. Messi jerseys were stocked at the team store inside the stadium, and entrepreneurs were selling unofficial Messi jerseys on the road leading to the venue.
The team was bracing for a gathering of GOATs at Messi’s debut match: LeBron James and Tom Brady — in the conversation of “greatest of all time” when it comes to the NBA and NFL — were expected to attend.
Miami currently has the worst record in MLS but the newly redesigned Leagues Cup, featuring every MLS and Liga MX team, offers a chance for Messi and Co. to win immediate silverware and claim one of three places available in next season’s Concacaf Champions League.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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