Miami does a

A hamburger and a drink with the name of Lionel Messi. A huge sketch of the soccer star’s smiling face accompanied by a meme that went viral during the World Cup in Qatar in a restaurant. A beer with him pink lettering from the jersey he will wear when playing for the local club.

Wherever you turn in Miami, there is a place or something that reminds you of the imminent arrival of the Argentine star.

Here, in one of the most Latin cities in the United States, there is no hiding the euphoria generated by Messi, who is beginning a new phase as a Major League Soccer (MLS) soccer player. Even days before his arrival on Tuesday, Miami was already vibrating for the Argentine.

For some, however, it represents a double feeling: happiness, knowing that they will have him close, and sadness, thinking that the end of his career on the courts is near.

Messi, who has just turned 36, announced on June 7 his landing at Inter Miami, a move that is expected to revitalize soccer in the United States and South Florida with one of the most prominent figures worldwide.

Miami is home to a large Latin American community that is a soccer fan, including just over 100,000 Argentines, who have made their enthusiasm for this sport grow year after year and now look forward to going to the fields to see better quality matches, including the Cup. America next year and the World Cup in 2026.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner comes from having played two years at Paris Saint-Germain and is expected to make his debut with Inter Miami in a match against Mexican team Cruz Azul on July 21.

In a career spanning more than 17 years with his country’s national team, Messi has scored more than 100 goals, including two against France at the 2022 World Cup, a match Argentina won on penalties.

“I love that I’m in Miami because my children will be able to live it like I lived (Diego) Maradona,” said Maximiliano Alvarez, one of the owners of the Fiorito restaurant, where one of the walls juts out with a giant Messi mural. “It also makes me sad, nostalgic, because it looks like it is the beginning of a retirement. Coming to this league is not the same as playing in the European league”, explained the Argentine businessman.

Álvarez and his brother Cristian commissioned a first mural with Messi’s face for the front of the restaurant in 2018, at a time when many criticized the soccer player for his role in the Argentine national team. His idea was to honor him and highlight that he represents resiliencenot giving up and always trying and trying.

In 2021 they renovated it with another one that the Chilean-American artist Claudio Picasso painted on the same wall of the restaurant in Little Haiti, in the northeast of Miami, where dozens of fans of the Argentine team have gathered to celebrate the triumphs of their team. in the World Cup.

In another restaurant called Kao Bar & Grill, in the Hallandale Beach area, north of Miami Beach, Messi’s meme “¡Andá pa’ alla bobo!” was immortalized accompanying a giant sketch of the footballer on one of the walls of the dining room.

The meme went viral immediately after Messi, Angry after Argentina’s heated win over the Netherlands in the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals, he said those words to a player from the opposing team who was passing by while he was being interviewed. Messi, who is known for his calm and cautious way of speakinghe immediately repented and regretted his comment, but still the artist who made the mural, Augusto Falopapas, and the owners of the place, decided to write it on the wall.

“He regretted it, obviously… but it was left as a joke,” Falopapas said when asked why he chose to put it on the mural.

To the south, in the Wynwood neighborhood, an area near downtown Miami known for its warehouse-turned-art galleries and graffiti on the walls, other artists have painted murals of Messi. Among them there is a giant one that includes two figures of the player, one with a smiling face, and next to it another running as if it were in a game, the work of his compatriot Maximiliano Bagnasco. And there are plans for more, including one of a Messi kissing the world cup on a wall more than 10 meters high by 6 meters wide that he plans to paint Falopapas with his Argentine colleague Jerónimo Gauna in an uncovered parking lot.

The arrival of Messi has also inspired restaurants, and even breweries like local Prison Pals Brewing Co., which sells a beer with Messi’s number 10 on it. The can is painted pink with black lettering, a replica of Inter Miami’s colours.

The Argentine grill The Knife, offers a Messi mojito; and Hard Rock Cafe is launching a new Milanese “Messi Chicken Sandwich” with the footballer’s name and a campaign to promote it worldwide, thus adding a new product to the already existing “Messi Burger”, already t-shirts, pants, sweatshirts with hood, water bottles and other products for sale.

The new sandwich, which the chain assures is inspired by the footballer’s favorite Milanese, will be sold worldwide from Wednesday, and it is accompanied by a series of street signs and advertisements welcoming the star to Miami.

“When we found out that he decided to choose Miami as his home in South Florida, it was incredible for us,” said Elena Alvarez, vice president of global sales for Hard Rock International. “We are very, very grateful and we have him as a brand ambassador and we are launching (the new sandwich) at the same time that he is moving here.”

Near Miami Beach, at the Café Ragazzi of the Argentine-Venezuelan singer-songwriter Ricardo Montaner, they are already waiting for him again. Messi was there on vacation after he won the Copa América with Argentina in 2021 and caused an uproar of fans who came to greet him, forcing the local staff — including waiters and kitchen assistants — to form a wall around him to protect him and allow his exit to his car. Now they want to offer you more privacy and are thinking of putting up some curtains.

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