In Lionel Messi’s press conference on Thursday — his first since joining Inter Miami in July — the Argentine superstar make it clear that artificial playing surfaces will not prevent him from appearing in any of his new team’s upcoming matches.
Messi’s play in his first six matches with Inter Miami has silenced most doubts about his level of commitment to his latest endeavor. His nine goals are leading the Leagues Cup scoring race and Miami has yet to lose with Messi on the field after going winless in 11 matches before his arrival. Inter Miami will face Nashville SC in the Leagues Cup final on Saturday night at Geodis Park, which has natural grass, but the one remaining doubt about Messi in America was whether he would buck the trend of aging stars who have come to MLS from Europe over the years and avoided playing matches on the league’s artificial surfaces.
On Thursday, the 36-year-old Messi allayed those fears by saying that artificial turf doesn’t bother him.
“The truth is my youth was spent on artificial turf, my whole life was on that pitch,” he said. “Truth is it’s been a while since I’ve played on artificial turf, but I have no problem adapting myself again.”
Though it’s a rarity at the highest levels of the game in Europe, six MLS stadiums feature artificial turf: Seattle’s Lumen Field, Vancouver’s BC Place, Portland’s Providence Park, New England’s Gillette Stadium, Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium and Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which Miami is set to visit on Sept. 16.
Messi’s boss, Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham, was vocal about his issues with artificial turf when he played for the LA Galaxy from 2007 to 2012.
“As a professional athlete, you can’t play a game like soccer on that sort of field,” Beckham said in 2007 after sitting out a match with at Toronto’s BMO Field, which had FieldTurf at the time (it now has hybrid grass), due to an ankle injury. “What it does to your body as a soccer player, you’re in bits for three days after that.”
“Every game, every team should have grass, without a doubt. You can’t ask any athlete to perform at a high level on the FieldTurf.”
Messi’s former teammate at Barcelona, Thierry Henry, also avoided artificial turf during his time with the New York Red Bulls from 2010 to 2014 as he had previously endured issues with his Achilles.
“Maybe I need to remind you,” Henry said in 2011. “Turf is one of the most severe things I’ve seen for us to play on.”
Didier Drogba, who had knee issues, sat out the start of Montreal’s 2016 season because four of their first five matches were played on turf and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another former teammate of Messi’s, vowed to only play on turf with the LA Galaxy in the playoffs. He had also previously had a major knee injury.
“The risk is higher on the turf,” Ibrahimovic said in 2018. “And I tried to play on the turf in Portland, and I felt very bad.”
Messi, however, has been fortunate to avoid many of the injuries players at his age have usually had to weather.
(Photo: Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)