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Lionel Messi holds first Inter Miami press conference: ‘I feel very happy’

FORT LAUDERDALE — At long last, Lionel Messi has spoken.

Inter Miami’s superstar has been with the team now for a month and kept relatively quiet — at least off the field — outside of a few brief TV interviews.

He held his first Inter Miami press conference Thursday at DRV PNK Stadium ahead of Saturday’s Leagues Cup final match at Nashville. Messi addressed a wide array of topics in just under 20 minutes, ranging from his decision to join Inter Miami, the acclimation process, what it would be like to win the Leagues Cup and plenty more.

It was a grand event, one that only a handful of other people in the world would likely draw.

Over 50 media members were in attendance, packing in the stadium’s press conference room like there was free money being given away. Every single seat had a name tag attached to it, rather than a free-for-all like normal. Messi spoke entirely in Spanish, but translation devices with headphones were provided for a live translation between English and Spanish. That was new too.

Approximately 100 fans stationed outside the stadium, hoping to get a glimpse of Messi as he entered and left the stadium. They wore a mixture of Messi jerseys and banged a drum and chanted as if an Inter Miami match was about to be played.

Messi entered the room at 4 p.m. sharp and posed for pictures with his pink No. 10 jersey before sitting down.

His overarching message 27 days after arriving emphatically with the free-kick winner against Cruz Azul had to do with his profound satisfaction with joining Inter Miami. Multiple times he brought up how happy he is with his decision, not just for him, but for his wife, Antonela Roccuzzo, and their three sons.

“I feel very happy,” Messi said. “I have repeated that many times now and I said that from the very beginning. I chose coming here to this city. It was a decision that we made with time. I didn’t make this decision overnight, and that’s why everything is much easier. We are in the place you want to be and it was our decision. That’s why everything is much easier.”

He compared his decision to sign with Inter Miami to when he left FC Barcelona two years ago and joined Paris Saint-Germain. Of course, he chose to play for Paris Saint-Germain, but he didn’t leave Barcelona on his own terms. In fact, he said never wanted to leave.

That’s why playing for Inter Miami is extra special for him. Messi chose the timing and the destination. The United States, Messi said, has always been in the back of his mind throughout his career.

“I wanted to stay in Barcelona, but I had to get used very quickly to a different place, a different place from the one I had lived,” Messi said. “In terms of the city, the sport, it was difficult, yes in Paris. But now, it’s quite the opposite of what is going on with me here and now.”

Messi’s first month with Inter Miami couldn’t have gone much better. He’s scored nine goals in his first six games, providing a jaw-dropping highlight just about every time he takes the field. And better yet, Inter Miami, which are in last place in the Eastern Conference, have won all six matches since he and his Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets arrived. Now, Inter Miami are one win away from their first trophy.

Messi scored the winner in stoppage time in his debut. He recorded a brace (two goals) in the next match against Atlanta United, then followed it up with two more braces against in-state rival Orlando City and in a mighty comeback at FC Dallas. Even when he was relatively quiet for his own standards against Charlotte FC in the quarterfinals, Messi still managed to tally a late goal as Inter Miami cruised to a 4-0 victory. Most recently, he scored a highlight-reel goal from a mile away in a semifinals rout at Philadelphia.

It’s become a matter of when — not if — he will put one in the back of the net.

Just today, Messi was nominated as one of three finalists for the 2022/23 UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Award — an honor he’s already won twice in his career, most recently in 2014-15.

But beyond the magic on the field, Messi has revolutionized soccer in the United States. He’ll forever be an ambassador of the sport in America. Inter Miami are no longer a sleepwalking club and people all across the country soundly have a newfound interest for Major League Soccer.

That’s all because of one player: Messi.

“I don’t think much about that,” Messi said. “I am here just to play, to continue enjoying futbol, which I have loved all my life.

“I chose this place for that. I can tell you today that I’m very happy with the decision we made not only in terms of sports, the game, but also for my family, how we live every day and how we are enjoying the city, the new experience and being welcomed by the people.”

Here are some other topics Messi touched on in his press conference:

On acclimating to living in South Florida: “From the very beginning ever since I arrived, the welcome was impressive. It’s a city with many Latinos, and that’s why everything is easier. Latino people are closer, they show their emotions all the time, they show their sentiments, their care, proximity and that’s the most important thing. It’s very healthy. And that helps you to accommodate yourself and to do a good job.”

On possibly bringing Inter Miami their first title in club history as soon as Saturday: “It would be impressive. Awesome. It’s beautiful how the Inter (Miami) people come to the matches to support us. The stadium was always full when we played local. It’s a very young club. It was founded just three years ago, and trying to get the first title would be beautiful for everyone.”

On potentially being named the 2022/23 UEFA Men’s Player of the Year, which will be announced Aug. 31: “It’s a very important prize because it’s a great recognition. One of the most important things, but I don’t give it that importance. The most important thing has been the collective trophies. I was lucky enough to get all the trophies in my career. And after getting the world championship that was missing, I don’t think much about that trophy. The most important one was that one, the world championship and then enjoying this moment. I don’t think much about that. If I get it, perfect. Otherwise, no problem. I have achieved all my objectives and all the goals that I set during my career. Now I have new ones with this club. We’re here for that.”

On the rumors that he won’t play in games that are played on artificial turf: “It’s been a long time since I’ve played in that kind of grass. That’s OK. I don’t have a problem getting adapted one more time.”

On adjusting to the South Florida heat: “I was on vacation for one month or so. At the beginning, yes, it was a lot of difficulty. The training, the matches, it’s very, very hot this time, very humid. And sometimes you can see that, but to be honest, it was a quick adaptation. Right now, I’m feeling very comfortable.”

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