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How Messi Is Conquering America: Goals, Bodyguard and General Euphoria

Lionel Messi again played unconventionally and creatively, making a beautiful feint. While Cristiano Ronaldo and other stars went to work in Saudi Arabia, the Argentine genius went against the trend and swung in a completely different direction—to the United States. The Inter Miami signing of probably the best football player in history caused a boom in the States and became a real socio-cultural phenomenon.
Leey
By: Leey

Today, we with 22BET break down how a new god landed on the shores of the United States and how it’s going so far. 

It Was Toxic at PSG, It Didn’t Work Out at Barça, I Didn’t Want To Go to the Saudis

Let’s start with a brief background on why the eight-time Ballon d'Or has changed European football for soccer in the first place. After winning the World Cup last December, Leo could have made any decision, from returning to Argentina to ending his career. He got his hands on the most important missing trophy and was given the moral right to enjoy football and life. By all accounts, he’d completed his football quest. 

The moment the World Cup in Qatar ended, reports began to emerge that the striker would extend his contract with PSG. It looked like it was only a matter of time. However, as the situation dragged on, it became increasingly clear that the extension would not happen.

An early exit from the Coupe de France and the Champions League and Leo's sometimes unconvincing performance became reasons for new manifestations of discontent with the fans and even for whistling at him. The relationship was severely damaged by the Argentine’s unauthorized promotional trip to Saudi Arabia during the season. The romance between Messi and the Parisian club with its fans had worn off. 

It all seemed to be a preface to a cinematic storyline – a return to Barcelona, where Messi rose to become the legend he is today. Ending his career in Catalonia was his dream.

In recent years, however, Barça have been plagued by financial problems, regularly deploying various economic levers that have already become the subject of memes among football lovers online. Lionel, on the other hand, was affected by the financial situation two years ago when the club could not register his new contract, and he was forced to leave Catalonia unexpectedly and hastily for Paris. Messi was afraid of a repeat of that unpleasant story. If Barcelona managed to sign him, it would probably be by the end of the transfer window. At the same time, he wanted to avoid the hassle and quickly solve the issue of where he would be plying his trade in the new season.

Leo's choice had other motives as well. For example, he admitted that he did not want Barça to have to sell other players and cut salaries for his return. In addition, the forward desired to reduce the level of pressure and the expectations of the public, which he was particularly tired of in Paris. "For two years, I wasn't happy, I wasn't having fun, and it affected my family life. I decided to 'reunite' with my family, children, and enjoy everyday life," Messi explained.

Why Inter Miami, then? According to Leo, he had other offers from Europe, but he immediately decided: if not Barcelona, then no one here would get him. In fact, the question was whether it would be Saudi Arabia or MLS (Major League Soccer).

In the Middle East, he was promised a much more lucrative deal — reportedly more than a billion dollars over three years. But Messi opted for the American option, signing a two-and-a-half-season deal.

The Perfect End to Messi’s Career

In general, MLS seems to have attracted the Argentine for a long time. Back in 2021, his father and part-time agent Jorge said that his son would leave for the United States two years later. Additionally, it was reported that Lionel's wife, Antonella Roccuzzo, was not eager to move to Saudi Arabia with her children.

In the States, Messi has embraced comfort, which is close to the usual conditions. Miami has a traditionally large Hispanic diaspora; nearly three-quarters of the population speaks Spanish. However, according to the Ukrainian Serhiy Kryvtsov, one of the Argentine's partners, he’s also keen on learning English.

 In addition, his friends, ex-Barça teammates Sergi Busquets and Jordi Alba, also joined Inter. Sidenote: they are also global superstars, who at other times would have generated much more excitement with their signing but now find themselves in the deep shadow of their friend.

Inter Miami matched Messi with an acquaintance to take the head coach role. Gerardo Martino, a compatriot of Messi from Rosario, had already worked with him at Barça and the Argentina national team.

A “Great” Salary, a Percentage of Apple TV Subscriptions, Club Shares

Leo isn’t in Miami just for the love of the game; he’s making a killing financially, too! His annual salary is $20.4 million per year (a league record). But that's not all. The MLS devised an elaborate plan to lure one of the greatest players in history. Specifically, it includes paying Messi a certain percentage of new subscriptions to Apple TV, which has exclusive MLS streaming rights. 

Adidas also took part in the football face of its brand. In addition, it was said that Lionel would later have the opportunity to get a share in the club and become a partial owner. Once upon a time, another famous football player, David Beckham, who played in the United States for the Los Angeles Galaxy and then became one of Inter Miami's owners, took a similar path.

Considering all these bonuses, according to various estimates, Messi could be earning about 50-70 million dollars.

Not so long ago, a curious ranking of the highest-paid football players in the world in 2023 swept through the media. According to Forbes, the leader, Cristiano Ronaldo, earns almost twice as much as his main competitor, Messi: $260 million versus $135 million. However, there is an opinion that Leo's business model is stronger and more far-sighted. Gaining a foothold in the more promising American market is strategically more profitable. In other words, the Argentine will make up for what he did not get by refusing to move to Saudi Arabia after a while in the United States.

We are not sure whether it will be possible to do this 100 percent. But the potential profit in the future, the comfort for the family, and the near-home living environment seem to make up for the difference in income.

The world champion began to recoup the costs immediately, even after the first unofficial reports of the transfer. Messi's effect is best seen in the number of users on social media. Before the Argentine's arrival, 900,000 people subscribed to the Inter Miami page on Instagram; now, there are 15.3 million. Another striking example is that the club's Twitter account had 88 new followers in May and 371,950 in June.

Judging by the number of followers on Instagram, Messi is now the most popular person in the United States. According to one of the metrics, he is second only to Cristiano in the world (489 and 608 million followers, respectively). To understand who is now the new boss in the States, look at the A-list celebrities who attended Leo’s debut game: Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian, and LeBron James. Leonardo DiCaprio, Selena Gomez, and Prince Harry attended Messi's matches, a kind of cultural event...

Naturally, Leo's arrival spiked other metrics: the number of Apple TV subscribers, the number of T-shirts sold, and ticket prices... Moreover, it’s not just Inter Miami that benefited from his appearance in the States, but other clubs in the league as well. For example, Chicago Fire managed to a stadium attendance figure of over 62,000, watching them play Inter Miami, which meant $7-$10 million in revenue. And Leo didn't even play because of an injury!

However, this presents a problem: many people buy tickets to see Messi in advance and are wildly upset when they do not see him on the field, as was the case in six matches last season.

Scoring Streak, First Trophy, Dramatic Injury

The only transfer comparable to Messi's is the one of the king of football Pelé, to the American Cosmos. Interestingly, the two players came to the United States at about the same age: in 1975, the Brazilian turned 35, and Leo celebrated his 36th birthday last June. The MLS did not exist at that time; its predecessor was the NASL. But there is no doubt that Pelé also left a great legacy in the States.

The Argentine's debut at Inter Miami was a match for the documentary series, Messi Meets America, which airs on Apple TV. The first match had the winning goal from a free-kick in the last minute. The next three were braces against the opponents. Three more goals were scored, which extended the scoring streak to 7 matches.

Moreover, the last goal was scored in the final of the League Cup, a tournament involving both American and Mexican teams. Messi immediately began to tear up American football, and a month after the start, he helped Inter Miami decorate the club's trophy cabinet with their first trophy. For Leo, the title was his 44th, and, according to some estimates, he surpassed Dani Alves and broke the all-time record for the number of cups he won.

Some of his 11 goals in 14 appearances in all competitions (plus five assists) were scored in an unusual way. He portrayed Marvel superheroes such as Thor, Black Panther, and Spider-Man. Many immediately began to wonder what these references meant. There was even speculation that it was part of another advertising agreement: MLS recently began cooperating with Marvel.

However, everything turned out to be much simpler. In the summer, Leo often watched Marvel movies with his three sons: 10-year-old Thiago, 8-year-old Mateo and 5-year-old Ciro. They asked their dad to celebrate goals in the style of the heroes of their favorite cinematic universe. This happened every time at Inter Miami's home games, when his kids were in the stands. Such an atypical reaction to goals only emphasizes that Leo has relaxed in his new place, relieved tension, and is enjoying life. 

Surprisingly, a week later, the Argentine had a chance to win another tournament, the U.S. Open Cup. However, Leo's American life began to be mixed with some dramatic notes. Due to a muscle injury, he missed the final against Houston, which Inter Miami lost.

Inter Miami's Messi addiction was clearly manifested. After all, out of five MLS matches without the Argentine, the team managed to win only one. In this sense, Tata Martino’s quote was very revealing: "Messi is the protagonist, and we are supporting actors who have fun." In many ways, Leo's injury cost the team a place in the playoffs and the continuation of the season. However, it is impossible not to consider that the best football player in the world came to the statistically worst team in MLS (Inter was in last place in the Eastern Conference).

Immediately there were rumors about a possible loan to Barcelona or a Saudi club with Mession left without club football for four months. However, nothing came out of it and Leo proceeded to join the team in China for a preseason trip to prepare for the new season. 

Famous Security Guard, Quick Adaptation, Well-Deserved Comfort

Messi's general influence in the world and the United States is so great that the wave includes stars in his entourage. A striking example is Yassine Cheuko, his bodyguard. It was reported that he leads a team of 50 people responsible for the safety of the Argentine and his family in the States. 

Yassine makes sure Leo is okay, even during matches, moving back and forth around the pitch's perimeter. Cheuko is called upon to protect his boss from the fans running onto the turf. And there have already been such cases. Including a funny one: once Yassin caught a young offender working according to the instructions but then allowed himself a cute deviation from the norms - he brought him to his idol.

Of course, the guard would not have become so famous if it were not for other factors - his colorful appearance and allegedly his intriguing life story. The press and social networks spread information indicating that Cheuko is a former US Army soldier of the so-called "Navy SEAL", who received combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and is also a master of martial arts.

However, the authoritative The Athletic conducted a whole investigation and found that only the facts about martial arts were true. There is a video confirming that he is indeed proficient in martial arts. Otherwise, Cheuco had never been to the United States before, let alone fought in the U.S. Army. Like Messi, he made a "transfer" from PSG, where he worked before Leo's arrival, and became his bodyguard.

Yassin's team also guards the Argentine's home in Miami. It was reported that Messi purchased the waterfront estate for $10.8 million. On 975 square meters, there are ten bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a gym, a spa, and a swimming pool.

Leo's speech at the press conference shows he is comfortable in his new place. Of course, there could be a certain amount of political correctness in his words, but there are no outward signs that the Messi family in Miami is having significant difficulties.

A famous introvert, Leo hardly likes to be recognized all the time. Almost immediately after his arrival, fans identified Messi in one of the city's supermarkets and bombarded him with requests for a photo. But this was also the case in Barcelona and Paris.

"The adaptation was quick. It turned out to be a lot easier than we thought." "I feel at home here." "It's an amazing city; I can live happily here." "We're enjoying Miami." "Very happy with the decision we've made."

>Messi's stay in the U.S. can hardly be called a football pension or a vacation. He intends to play in the Copa America in 2024 and may even try to defend the world title at the tournament in 2026. With his career, he certainly deserves all the good things happening to him now. And it's great that we still have the opportunity to turn on the broadcast, even at night, and see the genius in action.

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Leey
Written by: Leey
Leey is the reporter for Betimate. She currently has a series of articles about football. She specializes in researching football data to come up with evaluations about the tournament and predictions about the matches.

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