Lionel Messi and Inter Miami’s Preseason Tour in Saudi Arabia


News Team

Inter Miami had a different preseason last year. They played six matches in Florida, most of which were closed to the public. The biggest news was when fans set off fireworks and got ejected from the exhibition-season opener.

This season, things are different. Lionel Messi and Inter Miami have a two-game tour of Saudi Arabia. The first match is against Al-Hilal and the second match is against Al Nassr. There is a possibility that Messi may share the pitch with Cristiano Ronaldo, assuming the Portugal star has recovered from a calf injury.

The club has already played two exhibitions this year – one in El Salvador and one at Dallas’ Cotton Bowl. They also have matches in Hong Kong and Japan still to come after the Saudi swing is complete. This preseason is a big deal for Inter Miami, as they have become a global brand since Messi announced last summer that he was joining the Major League Soccer club.

DeAndre Yedlin, the Inter Miami defender, said, “It’s incredible. Obviously, it’s not just one guy, but I think most of the focus is on Leo. So, it shows just kind of the influence that he’s had on the game and has had on the game. People want to know what he’s doing. People want to know anything that he’s involved with, what’s going on. It’s great for the league. It’s great for us.”

Inter Miami is in Saudi Arabia because of Messi. There is no bigger name in the game than the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner and captain of reigning World Cup champion Argentina. Messi is a Saudi ambassador to help promote tourism. The financial benefit of Inter Miami and Messi playing in Saudi Arabia hasn’t been revealed, but it’s reasonable to think it’s a big number.

The trip itself speaks to how different everything for Inter Miami has become. The club faced Florida International University with no fans allowed in one of its preseason matches last season; this season, it’s facing Ronaldo with the soccer world watching for a result that won’t even count. The team had less than 1 million followers on Instagram; it has 16 million now, many of them no doubt driven there by the half-a-billion followers Messi has on that site.

An around-the-world trip for a whole new world makes sense. “It’s a bit different and I think the upside to that is we get to experience some different teams, different kind of competition,” Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender said. “We’re looking at it as a challenge in a way to kind of develop as a team, exposing ourselves to different teams, different leagues. So, I think for us it’s still new, but I think everybody has a good feeling around it.”

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