Argentine football superstar Lionel Messi was named Athlete of the Year by US magazine Time on Tuesday. The New York City-based publication honored the World Cup winner for his influence in the increase in popularity of football in the United States.
To explain the effect Messi has had in the MLS league and US football generally, Time highlighted his debut with Inter Miami, on July 21.
“Here was the greatest living soccer player, arguably the best to ever play the world’s most popular game, who last year led Argentina to its first World Cup win in nearly four decades, suiting up for a last-place club in the U.S.”
The “Messi effect” has been felt far and wide across the United States. Within 24 hours of his signing, Inter Miami’s Instagram followers jumped from 1 to 4.5 million — three times that of the league’s most popular franchise, the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Apple has also profited from Messi’s arrival stateside after announcing a 10-year deal to broadcast MLS games through its streaming platform, Apple TV, in 2022. The tech goliath had 300,000 new subscribers in August alone.
“I remember getting in the car on the way back, and I said to Victoria, ‘I’m not even sure I can drive home,’” Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham told TIME about Messi’s debut, where he scored a last-minute free kick against Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup.
“The truth is that fortunately, I had several options on the table that were interesting,” Messi told Time about his arrival to Inter Miami in the MLS. “I had to analyze them and think, even weigh them up with my family, before making the final decision to come to Miami.”Messi scored 11 goals and gave five assists in 14 games for Inter Miami this season.
He lifted the Leagues Cup, the first title on August 19, but suffered some injuries that prevented him from pushing the Herons from entering the MLS Playoffs. However, his performances in the 2022 World Cup proved enough to earn him his eighth Ballon d’Or, becoming the first player to win it while contracted to an MLS club.