Surrounded by five defenders, Lionel Messi chose his MLS debut to reinvent the rules of physics
It hasn’t taken long for Lionel Messi to conquer America.
Ever since he swapped purgatory at PSG for the good life in Miami, Messi has treated Stateside crowds to a compilation of his greatest hits like an uber NOW album.
Goals have flown past trembling goalkeepers. Defenders have been made to look like Sports Direct-sized mugs. Previously unheralded team-mates have turned into reincarnations of David Villa.
But the half-watching public might be surprised to learn that Messi only made his MLS debut last night. From the bench. Luckily, the World Cup winner chose the occasion to reinvent the rules of physics.
Having arrived as a second-half substitute, the 36-year-old set about turning the sprightly New York Red Bulls into the kind of pathetic Jagerbombs you down at 3am with no Red Bull, double Jager and mentally write off the next week in the process.
Collecting the ball in the Red Bulls’ penalty area, Messi stood upright and dared his opponents to fall into the trap of attempting to dispossess him. Like a grand chess master, he was already multiple steps ahead of the blundering defence.
With five defenders converging on him like the Argentine was the last steak on the asado, Messi used the outside of his boot to flick a pass that would’ve left Albert Einstein contemplating instant retirement instead of trying to understand what he’d just seen.
Benjamin Cremaschi, the recipient of Messi’s latest piece of genius, understood his role of sidekick immediately, squaring the ball to Messi to allow the multiple Ballon d’Or winner the opportunity to dot the I’s and cross the T’s himself.
Messi –> Cremaschi –> MESSI
OUT. OF. THIS. WORLD. pic.twitter.com/NzBKniNExm
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 27, 2023
Even Premier League-standard players, such as former Aston Villa and Burnley midfielder Ashley Westwood, have been in awe seeing Messi up close in the States.
“There was talk [of Messi joining Inter Miami] in the summer, it had been circling for a while so when it happened everyone was excited,” Westwood told talkSPORT.
“Everyone was buzzing for it – the whole country was buzzing for it. You watch their games and they’ve got NBA stars and celebrities going there, it’s like a basketball game.”
Westwood faced Messi for the first time in August and the midfielder admits he was overwhelmed by just how good the Argentine superstar was.
“The stadium was full an hour before he even turned up,” he said.
“My wife and the kids went to the game, they flew down and they said that even outside of the game he’s got ‘Messi’s Mac and Cheese’ and Messi everything. It’s all Messi!
“To play against him – I knew he was going to be good but to be that good was just ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.
“I was trying to kick him but I couldn’t even get near him. He’s special, but I don’t think he was too happy – he just stared at us the whole time and didn’t speak too much English.
“I’ve played against some good players but he’s on another level. The way he manipulates the ball – like the lads said, you stick your foot out and he just flicks it over you.
“It’s like he sees it before it happens, he’s a magician.”
Messi has certainly lived up to the billing in America so far, taking this massive & slightly eccentric country and making them coo in the palm of his hand.
His impact has been so great that Inter Miami’s players have already been warned they’ll need to get used to winning without Messi in the future.
“Leo’s going to miss at least three games,” Miami boss Gerardo Martino explained. “He’s going to get called up by his national team and others too, and we know the team needs to continue to win in these times.
“I think it’s the first time we played without him since the Cruz Azul match (Messi’s debut). The response of the team without him was great for the first hour.
“We controlled the match for large portions and took the lead. We needed to do this so that we knew we could win without him. The response was satisfactory.”
Martino is correct; with Messi on their side, Miami’s other players are taking the opportunity to smoke cigars and eat a picnic while the little genius does his thing. That won’t fly forever.
But, for now, we reckon being walk-on-participants to Messi’s weekly genius is just about enough.
By Michael Lee
You can watch every single MLS match from wherever you are in the world with an MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.