Lionel Messi of Inter Miami CF
Lionel Messi of Inter Miami CF reacts in the second half during the Leagues Cup 2023 match against Atlanta United at DRV PNK Stadium on July 25, 2023 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Image Credit: AFP

Fort Lauderdale: Lionel Messi's impact for Inter Miami has been clear to see, with three goals and an assist in 120 minutes on the field, but his team-mates say his influence behind the scenes may be just as vital.

The seven-times Ballon d'Or winner and recently crowned World Cup-winning Argentine captain, faced a number of potential pitfalls when he joined the last-placed club in Major League Soccer.

Having spent his entire career alongside world-class players at Barcelona, Messi left behind star team-mates such as Brazilian Neymar and Frenchman Kylian Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain and walked into a locker-room full of mostly unrecognisable faces.

Earning millions more than his team-mates, enjoying a lifestyle and football resume they could only dream of it was by no means sure that he would bond with the rest of the squad.


Adding to the sudden change inside the team, Messi joined the club this month along with another former Barcelona star and World Cup winner, Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets.

But speak to anyone connected with Inter Miami and they quickly tell you how the pair have parked their egos and gone out of their way to fit in with their new team-mates.

"To be honest, I think that boils down to their character," says American full-back DeAndre Yedlin.

"They've come in and they haven't boasted or been like, oh, we're the big guys here or anything like that. They've tried to meld right into the group," said the defender, who gave up his captain's armband to Messi.

Inter Miami CF midfielder Sergio Busquets
Inter Miami CF midfielder Sergio Busquets controls the ball in the first half against the Atlanta United at DRV PNK Stadium. Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports/REUTERS

There has been no special treatment at the training ground for the pair, says Yedlin, even though they know that their every wish would surely be agreed to.

"They eat the same things we eat and train the same way we train and use the same trainers that we use. There's nothing different.

"So we really feel like they're a part of the group, one of us. And I think that helps us," added Yedlin, who played in England's Premier League with Newcastle United.

Leaving the stadium after Tuesday's 4-0 win over Atlanta, their second straight win with their new team-mates, Yedlin was sporting new headphones, in the team's pink and black colours, which he said Messi had gifted to the entire team.

If there had been any concerns about an 'us and them' divide forming at the club, Yedlin says they have vanished since the pair arrived in South Florida.

"Nobody really knew what to expect. But, they've been an incredibly pleasant surprise to work with and to learn from and to play with," he said.

The transformation of Miami, in two games, from a struggling side lacking confidence into a team playing with swagger and some style, isn't just down to Messi and Busquets' technical ability.

The duo are clearly committed to helping the rest of the team improve.

Messi has responded to any mistakes by his team-mates with suggestions and support rather than the frustrated gestures that some star players in MLS have displayed.

Dream come true

Nineteen-year-old full-back Noah Allen, who grew up just down the road from Inter's DRV PNK Stadium in Pembroke Pines, says Messi is a joy to play with.

"He really makes us all enjoy the game and he gives us extra space. So we also have more time on the ball and we have to make better decisions," he said.

"We're playing with the best in the world, so we have to sharpen up as well. And he's really helping us with that," he said.

No one has benefited more from Messi's arrival than Finnish winger Robert Taylor, who has matched the Argentine with three goals in the last two games and has also reciprocated with an assist for his team-mate.

"It's a dream come true to play with him," said Taylor, who struggled to get a starting place before Martino took over.

Busquets draws less attention than Messi but he pulls the strings in midfield and says the pair's experience of playing under Martino in the past is helping them to guide their new team-mates in the change of style.

Knowledge transfer is clearly taking place - frequently during games, Busquets can be seen talking to team-mates and pointing out passing options that may have been missed.

"I know Tata, his philosophy, what he wants and on a tactical level I think I can help all the players a lot, not just the young ones," said the Spaniard.

"We are trying to improve and yes, we have that communication, so that it can be seen in the matches," he said.