Lionel Messi is back and looking like the legend of old.
What a difference twelve months has made. A World Cup championship is now under his belt, and with it, a weight has been lifted.
With so many of Europe’s best flocking to Saudi Arabia, Messi went against the grain in joining Inter Miami in the MLS. The worst team in the standings nonetheless. This was a risky move.
But Messi followed his heart, and went to the place where he felt he and his family could be the most happy.
This is a player, who from the beginning, did it for the joy of the game. In many ways, he’s a kid at heart, and the pitch is his sanctuary.
Until it wasn’t.
As fans of Barcelona and La Pulga, it was heartbreaking to see the way in which he left the club. The team was on the decline for years. Messi was still producing magic single-handedly to keep his side afloat and winning, but financial and organizational turmoil made it impossible to enjoy football the way he always had.
Joan Laporta will have a big task in front of him to make things right between Messi and the club. It may be difficult to do as long as he’s the president given the lack of trust between them.
Even more sad are the years he spent at PSG, the only club who was truly in the running for his signature at the time given how sudden it was.
The Parisians never understood or appreciated what Messi still had to offer.
Bringing in Messi was forcing a square peg into a round hole. There was never a clear vision to take advantage of the talent, and at the end of the day, it was always going to be Kylian Mbappe’s team… although not for much longer ironically.
When failure predictably ensued in the Champions League, the GOAT became the scapegoat.
Was it ever truly about winning for Nasser Al-Khelaifi? Or was Messi, like Neymar before him, just a fancy piece of jewelry to show off to the world?
The World Cup in Qatar was the poetic justice that Messi deserved.
He had a coach who was smart enough to keep things simple tactically, and put a team around Messi that could do the work to allow the little genius to shine and carry that great country to glory.
And football became fun again as a weight was lifted and Messi’s spirit was set free.
Maybe we got a glimpse of it a year prior when Argentina took down Brazil in the Copa America.
Something reset in Messi’s mind that he had won everything there was to win in Europe.
It was time to leave the continent and try his ambitions on another side of the world.
It was always going to be Miami, the second city next to Barcelona that makes his family feel at home.
But when the decision was finally made, many of us Messi fans had fear and apprehension.
There was certainly a seismic talent gap between Messi and the rest of the MLS, but would he be put in a position to succeed in a club that has been truly dysfunctional since its start in 2018. It would be nostalgic to see him joined by Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, but would they be let down by a supporting cast incapable of rising to their level?
In just four games, all doubts have subsided, and the party has started in South Beach.
This is the Messi show, and he is a man on a mission, determined to enjoy his football again.
From the moment he checked in against Cruz Azul, he had a big smile on his face, and he looked relaxed. Like a man who felt loved.
Miami may be the perfect city for him. Not just because the language, weather, and Latin culture will remind him of home. But because it’s a city that recognizes and celebrates sporting greatness.
And in the MLS, he has a chance to be a revolutionary, and complete the job that Inter Miami owner David Beckham started when he joined the Galaxy in 2007.
Make the Americans understand, once and for all, what the greatest sport in the world is. If Pele made the introduction with the Cosmos, let Messi be the one who makes them fall in love.
Maybe it won’t be about winning titles, although I’m certain he will. What Messi is doing is far more impactful.
He’s capturing the imagination of a nation, and fans around the world, who are living in a world with fierce competition for their attention.
But that’s the thing about watching Messi play.
Your eyes are glued to the game, waiting for the impossible to manifest.
So far, we’ve seen a motivated Messi who is at the height of his powers.
How did you feel when you saw the game winning free kick against Cruz Azul?
How about when he did it again to rescue his team against FC Dallas?
As a fan, it’s a spiritual feeling I never thought I’d experience again.
A feeling only Messi can produce that transcends football.
You see the magical moment coming from a mile away, and yet it’s an astonishing delight every time.
This is Messi’s world, and I’m happy to be living in it.