MLS

Messi to Inter Miami? Club co-owner 'optimistic' about future deal

By Sports Desk June 10, 2021

Lionel Messi could spend the latter days of his career at Inter Miami in Major League Soccer – at least, the club's co-owner is "optimistic" such a deal could be arranged.

Messi's future has been shrouded in uncertainly for the best part of a year, with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner attempting to force a departure from Barcelona last August.

While that did not come to fruition, with Messi unwilling to drag the club through the courts in an attempt to exercise an apparent get-out clause, his future has been a constant source of speculation through 2020-21 due to his contract expiring at the end of June.

Barca president Joan Laporta said this month that contract discussions were going well, with Messi seemingly happier at the club since the October resignation of Josep Maria Bartomeu and the previous board.

Although a move to Miami would seem unlikely at this juncture regardless of Messi's relationship with Barca, Jorge Mas, co-owner of the MLS side, sees no reason why an agreement would not be possible in the future.

"I am optimistic Messi will play in an Inter Miami shirt because I think it will complete the legacy of the greatest player in our generation and will meet with the ambitions of the owners of Inter Miami to build a world-class team," Mas told the Miami Herald.

Former Real Madrid, Manchester United and England star David Beckham is among the others to own a share of the MLS franchise and also serves as its president.

Mas says he and Beckham have certain ambitions regarding the calibre of player they want to see in Florida, and someone of Messi's reputation fits the bill.

He added: "David and I have been working really hard, we have aspirations of bringing the best players here and Messi is a generational player, arguably the best player of all time."

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    Andres Iniesta arrived at Vissel Kobe amid plenty of fanfare in May 2018.

    One of the most successful players in Barcelona's history, having won LaLiga nine times and four Champions League crowns among his haul of 35 trophies, Iniesta was brought to Vissel to deliver silverware.

    Up until his arrival three years ago, Vissel had never won a trophy but during the Spain great's time in Kobe, the ambitious Rakuten-backed outfit have won the Emperor's Cup (2019) and Japanese Super Cup (2020).

    Vissel also qualified for the AFC Champions League for the first time in their 55-year history in 2020, reaching the semi-finals.

    Iniesta and Vissel are on track to feature in the Champions League again – Atsuhiro Miura's men are third in the J1 League this season and on course for their best finish in the top flight, three points clear of Nagoya Grampus in the race for the final qualification spot ahead of Sunday's showdown – as they seek to become kings of Asia.

    "The team have been saying we want to become the number one team in Asia so the first big goal is to win the Asian Champions League," Vissel defender Leo Osaki told Stats Perform about the project in Japan.

    "Of course we have to win the J1 League, we can't just be focused on the Champions League. But the biggest goal right now is to win the Champions League. We just have to finish third and hope we can play for the Champions League next season."

    When Iniesta swapped Camp Nou to join captain Lukas Podolski at Kobe Wing Stadium, it brought more eyes onto the club and attracted a host of stars the following year.

    Spain's all-time leading scorer David Villa, former Arsenal and Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Samper all followed Iniesta to Kobe.

    Vissel's investment in Iniesta paid off in 2019 after conquering Kashima Antlers for their first ever piece of silverware before overcoming 2019 J1 League champions Yokohama F.Marinos on penalties in the Japanese Super Cup in 2020.

    Since his debut, Iniesta has showed no signs of slowing down, with the 37-year-old maestro boasting 175 completed dribbles (second in the J1 League) and a 64 per cent success rate (third among at least 100 attempts) to go with 164 created chances (fifth) in 81 league appearances.

    In total, captain Iniesta has scored 17 goals and supplied 17 assists to spearhead Vissel's cause under the ownership of Rakuten, who continue to dream big after buying the team from the Crimson Group in 2014.

    "He didn't come here to finish his career. He came to win and you can see it in the training and locker room," Osaki said, with Vissel's 2021 squad including Vermaelen, Bojan Krkic and Samper. "I think bringing him into the team opened the path for other world-class players to come in and it attracted a lot of people to watch the J1 League and Vissel Kobe. In that point of view, it gave the team a positive reaction.

    "For him playing with us, since the first day he came, there was a positive reaction. Watching him from behind, it's a dream come true because most of us were just watching him on TV.

    "Playing wise, he demands a lot from everybody, not just players next to him but behind him, goalkeeper and strikers. In our bad times, he tries to talk to players and motivate them so the team doesn't fall apart.

    "Winning that title changed everything in a good way," Osaki added. "Since it was the first title in the club's history, that boosted the confidence for everyone. Also the expectations got higher. Winning those two titles changed a lot."

    "I think we haven't accomplished anything, so the job isn't finished. We have to play in the Champions League and become the number one team in Asia. We've made progress in terms of getting two titles. The team had never won any titles, so that was big progress," the 30-year-old said.

    "Playing in the Champions League gave us experience and confidence, which has helped us this season. In the Champions League, we didn't end up winning but I think that experience gave us confidence and that's why we are in this position now."

    Since Iniesta's arrival, Vissel have ranked third in the J1 League in possession (57.2 per cent), passing accuracy (85.5 per cent) and shooting accuracy (47.3 per cent), while they have outperformed their expected goals (xG) value of 171.4 by scoring 183 goals – the fourth most in that span.

    "Bringing in Andres and all those world-class players always gives a positive reaction to the team but at the same time, fans are like 'you have these players, so you have to win'. But football isn't that easy," he added.

    "Of course we have quality players and we play with 11 players, but it's a team sport. It takes time. Fans can't wait, they want results instantly. We struggled in the beginning and we were focused on possession and everything but now we are probably 50 per cent counter-attack and 50 per cent possession - and we started getting results."

    He added: "I think sometimes we focus on the project too much in the past. Of course, we want to play out from the back, press the ball and dominate the game but sometimes we focus on that too much. At times we had 60-70 per cent possession but we couldn't get results or win. We're still working on that actually, playing out of the back. We kind of added a different kind of style, just go forward at times.

    "Now, we're focused more on the result. At times we play good and at times we don't, but still focusing on the result is keeping us in this position now."

  • Nuno defends Spurs rotation after defeat at Vitesse Nuno defends Spurs rotation after defeat at Vitesse

    Nuno Espirito Santo insisted his focus was on improving Tottenham's young players after his side suffered a 1-0 defeat at Vitesse in the Europa Conference League.

    Maximilian Wittek's second-half strike was enough to see Thomas Letsch's dominant outfit past a sorry Spurs, who have won just two of their last eight away games in Europe.

    The midfielder's left-footed half-volley also ended Tottenham's five-game unbeaten run in the Netherlands in the 21st century, while they remain winless in 2021-22 on the road across three games in European competition.

    Head coach Nuno, who opted to rest Son Heung-min and Harry Kane for the trip to Arnhem, refused to lament his side's performance as he pointed towards a busy schedule requiring rotation of his squad.

    "It was a tough match. I think we competed well. In terms of attack, I think we should finish the actions better. Some combinations were missing," the Spurs boss said.

    "I knew that the game was going to be tough. I am not here to judge the players, I am here to try and improve them. The analysis and the judgement we do it behind closed doors, like you can understand."

    Rennes sit top of Group G, five points clear of Spurs at the halfway point, while Vitesse sit in second on six points.

    However, Nuno appeared calm as he suggested his team can bounce back with their next three games in the competition as they look to make the knockout stages.

    "I think we have two games at home against Vitesse and Rennes, and then we have to play Mura. We can solve the situation of the group," Nuno said, before defending teenage forward Dane Scarlett who struggled against a three-man defence.

    "Dane is 17 years old. It is tough for him, but many of our players who are under 17 are not involved in first-team football," Nuno said. "Experience comes when he competes against top professionals like he did against Vitesse today."

  • Vitesse 1-0 Tottenham: Wittek strike downs uninspiring Spurs Vitesse 1-0 Tottenham: Wittek strike downs uninspiring Spurs

    Maximilian Wittek's second-half strike condemned an insipid Tottenham to a 1-0 loss against Vitesse in the Europa Conference League.

    Spurs had won just two of their last seven away games in European competition before Thursday and their struggles on the road showed in a timid opening 45-minute showing.

    However, the visitors were unfortunate to not go ahead after the interval at the GelreDome as Bryan Gil rifled onto the woodwork in an otherwise uneventful first hour of football.

    Nuno Espirito Santo's side, who rested Harry Kane entirely for the trip to Holland, were eventually made to pay for their lacklustre performance when Wittek drilled in from the edge of the area to end Spurs' unbeaten start in the competition and leave them third in Group G.

    Pierluigi Gollini smothered the first chance of the game as he raced out to deny Nikolai Baden Frederiksen before Jacob Rasmussen flicked narrowly wide following Wittek's corner.

    Nuno's side could not manage a shot on target in the first half but went in level at the break after Thomas Letsch's team failed to make the most of their control of proceedings.

    Spurs duly returned after the interval with greater attacking impetus, Bryan rattling the crossbar with a left-footed curler just two minutes into the second half.

    Eli Dasa then drove narrowly wide of the right-hand post before forcing another save from Gollini as Vitesse piled on the pressure just past the hour mark in a contest of limited opportunities.

    The hosts had scored in each of their last eight games and made it nine when Wittek rifled a left-footed half-volley - via a deflection off Davinson Sanchez - into the bottom-right corner with 13 minutes remaining.

    Spurs pressed on for a late equaliser that did not come, meaning their five-game unbeaten run in the Netherlands in the 21st century came to an end.

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