Martino: Messi’s Miami leadership similar to WC

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Inter Miami CF coach Gerardo Martino said the leadership Lionel Messi is providing in MLS is similar to what he showed in helping Argentina win the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“He is not doing here neither more nor less than what we saw in the World Cup with Argentina,” Martino told reporters on Thursday ahead of Miami’s Leagues Cup quarterfinal against Charlotte FC. “Leo’s leadership on and off the pitch has been notable in recent years. I’m thinking about what he did in the World Cup because that reflects the kind of leader he has become.”

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Messi has been his usual otherworldly self since signing for David Beckham’s Inter Miami side as a free agent in July after leaving Paris Saint-Germain, scoring seven goals — including two game-changing free kicks from outside the penalty area — to lead his team to the quarterfinals of the Leagues Cup with four wins in four appearances.

Martino, though, who coached Messi during a short spell at Barcelona and for two years while managing Argentina, believes there has been an evolution in the 36-year-old’s approach to leadership both at the World Cup and during his brief time in MLS.

“It’s totally different from the first years of his career when he only led from the football side,” Martino said. “Today he has an impact on the field as always, but also in training, in talks with the young players of the team, and in how to execute an idea for the team.

“When he arrived, he said: ‘I come to compete and win.’ I think the image of the fourth goal [vs. FC Dallas] is a good example. He celebrated the goal, but at the same time he was saying: ‘Let’s grab the ball quickly to see if we can score a fifth goal.’

“It reflects a bit his mentality and, of course, that’s something contagious for everyone.”

That “fourth goal” against Dallas that Martino is referring to came on a trademark Messi free kick in the dying minutes of Miami’s round-of-16 Leagues Cup match and sent the game to penalties, where Messi converted his spot kick as the team won the shootout and moved on in the competition between MLS and Liga MX sides.

Messi also scored a pair of classy goals to beat Orlando City SC in the round of 32 and two against Atlanta United FC in Miami’s final Leagues Cup group stage game.

For Martino, even with a player of Messi’s caliber, it’s not normal.

“Teams are made of character. Of course, you have to play well,” Martino said. “But there are moments when character is needed to take over a game. We showed that, but we also have Leo. So, on top of character, we have Messi.

“And it isn’t normal to feel we have a 90 percent changes of scoring when he has a free kick on the edge of the box. We shouldn’t normalize that.”

Miami can reach the semifinal of the Leagues Cup if it beats Charlotte on Friday, with the match set to kick off at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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