Messi’s exploits in Miami appear to generate just as much media attention as his on-field performances.
The excitement surrounding Lionel Messi’s presence in the United States among American football fans was always going to increase, but Messi mania is a celebration of both his on-field prowess and the off-field extravaganza that appears to characterise the experience.
The majority of Messi’s chronicled experiences in America have felt newsworthy and entertaining so far, even the most routine of chores. It’s a response that perfectly captures Messi’s distinctive prominence in football and around the athletic world, and the excitement isn’t expected to go away anytime soon given that the superstar is planning a multi-year stay with Inter Miami.
Here’s a look at the off-the-field dramas grabbing almost as much attention as Messi’s on-field prowess ahead of Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final versus the Houston Dynamo.
Messi has spent a significant portion of his career playing in front of sold-out crowds, and his time in the United States thus far is no exception. Though the schedule favoured celebrities with homes in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, the attendance list at MLS games is far more star-studded now than it used to be.
On July 21, he was greeted by a raucous crowd at DRV PNK Stadium for his debut game in Miami colours, which also included tennis great Serena Williams, NBA superstar LeBron James, and NFL hero Tom Brady. Kim Kardashian was present that evening as well.
The stars kept appearing. Soccer players Sam Kerr and Kristie Mewis, rapper French Montana, and songwriter-actor Lin-Manuel Miranda were among those present at Red Bull Arena for Messi’s MLS debut, while Prince Harry, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Selena Gomez were present at BMO Stadium for Miami’s match against LAFC. While Messi ultimately decided not to travel with Miami, legendary director Francis Ford Coppola was a special guest of Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank.
Even the lesser known are making important appearances. People travel long distances and spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to watch Messi play, and while he has frequently given them their money’s worth, the experience is not always perfect. One notable 1,200-mile fan trip to witness the Philadelphia Union play Inter Miami was marred by the fact that Messi had not yet signed a contract with the team.
Almost everyone who has enjoyed seeing Messi play has also witnessed another performance—that of the player’s bodyguard, Yassine Chueko.
According to Sports Illustrated, the former Navy Seal was apparently hired on the request of Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham. He paces up and down the pitch while Messi plays in an effort to protect every move he makes. He is skilled in martial arts, boxing, and taekwondo and has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
It takes a specific set of abilities for a man who is effectively responsible for defending Messi and his family while they are visiting South Florida and making sure pitch invaders do not get onto the pitch, but it just enhances the Messi mania experience. Chueko, who serves as the player’s bodyguard, is gradually rising to fame in his own way; he currently has 214,000 Instagram followers.
Messi fever has provided plenty of fodder for people who are interested in cuisine, especially Messi’s own preferences. One of his first appearances in South Florida was at Cafe Prima Pasta in Miami Beach, whereas the Hard Rock Cafe, one of Messi’s sponsors, discontinued their Messi Chicken Sandwich with Milanese influences just days after he arrived.
There were more bites with a Messi theme. Before Miami’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal match versus FC Cincinnati, Cincinnati’s Busken Bakery made a splash by releasing sugar cookies with the player’s face on them. Earlier this month, Messi’s Friday night dinner, though, generated the most creative interpretations.
Messi was kept at home by Inter Miami for their game against Atlanta due to weariness, and the player effectively confirmed the rumours by blogging about the pizza he had the night before the game from Banchero, a nearby restaurant that specialises in pies made in the Argentinean style. Messi’s Instagram tales essentially crashed the internet and made people reevaluate what constitutes a pizza.
The verdict? Messi’s dinner was a variation on an Argentine pizza called a fugazza, which is a play on the Italian focaccia. While it can be categorised as pizza, it may not be as traditional as a New York slice and may not even be the best example of Argentina’s take on the crowd-pleaser.