NEWS SPORTS

No loan move or playoffs for Lionel Messi, so how will Inter Miami’s star man spend his four-month break from MLS action?

The Argentine’s career has been non-stop for two decades, but it seems he’ll have something of a break during the winter months

Since emerging at Barcelona nearly two decades ago, it’s safe to say that Lionel Messi has played a lot of football. There are blessings and curses that come with being one of the best to ever do it, and the biggest curse in that is that, over the years, there are lots and lots of miles put into your legs.

Since 2003, Messi has played in 899 matches at club level alone, and that’s not even counting preseason friendlies. Add in the 201 total matches he’s played for Argentina, and that averages out to 55 matches a year, or more than one per week.

So, as Messi stares down an MLS offseason unlike anything he’s ever seen, he must be thinking one thing: now what? By failing to make the playoffs, Inter Miami will now head into an extended break from competitive action, one longer than any Messi has ever had. The Argentinian was linked with a move back to Barcelona to maintain his fitness, but a return to his old club won’t be going through.

Miami aren’t quite done yet in terms of their 2023 schedule, but they will not gather again with winning turly on their mind until early January, and will not play another meaningful match until February, meaning Messi and Co. will go at least three-and-a-half months without a competitive fixture.

So how will Messi spend his time throughout that long offseason? GOAL takes a look…

Gruelling year

Throughout his career, Messi has been something of an iron man for club and country. However, at age 36, it’s remarkable how many high-level matches Messi has played over the last year.

He featured 41 times for Paris Saint-Germain in all competitions before making his move to Inter Miami, where he played 14 matches in total throughout his first half-season with the club. For Argentina, he of course guided the team all the way to a historic World Cup triumph, playing 14 games in 2022 and six more so far in 2023.

It’s been gruelling, to say the least, as Messi has played for teams in three different countries across five different continents. And he’s not done, either, as Miami will have one last set of matches to go before truly breaking for the offseason…

Trip to China

Before everyone heads off for their winter breaks, Miami will head to China for a two-friendly tour as the club looks to capitalize on the international appeal of ‘Messi-mania’. The club is set to face a pair of Chinese sides, Qingdao Hainiu on November 5 and Chengdu Rongcheng on November 8, as part of a quick tour of Asia in an effort to grow the brand even further.

“We’re very excited to continue to expand our club’s global reach, bringing our team to play in front of incredible fans across the globe,” Inter Miami chief business officer Xavier Asensi said. “This is a special opportunity to share the passion as we reach new audiences and put ourselves on display in new places, and we’re looking forward to beginning this adventure.”

However, for Messi, those games won’t just be about promoting the brand; they’ll also be about maintaining fitness as he looks ahead to international duty…

Huge games for Argentina

So far, Messi and Argentina are off to a perfect start in World Cup qualifying, having won all four of their games while scoring seven and conceding none. In November, though, their fixtures get a whole lot tougher.

Argentina will first take on Uruguay on November 16 and then play host to Brazil five days later as they face the other two top dogs in the region. The two matches will be massive tests for the reigning world champions, their biggest games since defeating France in Qatar around 11 months prior.

Messi, of course, will have gone nearly a month without a competitive game at that point, which is what makes those two matches in China so vital. He’ll need to keep himself fit for about a month so that he can help lead Argentina into these two massive encounters.

After that, though, all bets are off and Messi can, for the first time in his professional life, sit back and enjoy the holiday season.

Much-deserved R&R
For most footballers, the holidays are a brief break from a busy schedule. Aside from the Premier League, most of Europe’s top leagues give their players some sort of break, and for someone like Messi, that was one of few weeks during the year where he could just relax.

Still, there was always another game just around the corner. This year, he won’t have that problem.

“It’ll be the first time in a while that I spend a lot of days here in December during the holidays in peace with my people,” Messi said recently. “And in January I’ll be back, I’ll do a preseason starting from zero and prepare myself the best I can, as always.”

It will surely be a welcome break for Messi, both mentally and physically. He’ll get to enjoy time with his three children without the looming presence of a European campaign. He can, for the first time probably ever, simply just relax and enjoy the holidays.

That’s not to say he won’t be ready by the time preseason starts come January, but it’s clear to see that Messi is looking forward to some much-needed personal time after spending the last 20 years living so much of his life on the field.

Ballon d’Or incoming?

There may be one more trip on Messi’s schedule, though, one that’ll come even before the flight to China. Before all of that, Messi may just be needed in Paris on Monday to collect yet another prestigious prize.

As things stand, Messi is the favorite to win the Ballon d’Or. Doing so would mark his eighth time collecting the Golden Ball, and put him three clear of the person with second-most, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Because of that, Messi may just need to spend a bit of time in Europe before his offseason plans truly get going, although he surely won’t mind once again being honored for another superb 12 months.

Messi-influenced preseason

After the holiday season, Messi will report back to Inter Miami as he looks to lead a team that, as things stand, will be among the favorites to win the MLS Cup in 2024. And it already seems like Messi’s presence will have a big influence on what Miami’s preseason will look like.

Widespread reports state that Messi’s childhood club, Newell’s Old Boys, will head to Miami for a preseason friendly. The match will serve as something of a testimonial for the Argentinian icon, although there’s still plenty of time for farewell matches later down the line.

As for the rest of Miami’s preseason plans, those remain TBD, but there will be no shortage of teams hoping to line up against Messi and co. in January or February. The club will no doubt use the allure of Messi to set up something special.

It’ll be a long wait until then, longer than anything Messi has experienced. He is set, however, for a much-deserved break, as even GOATs need a bit of a rest every once in a while.