Duro Ikhazuagbe with agency report
Argentina and MLS’s Inter Miami icon, Lionel Messi, been named 2023 TIME Magazine Athlete of the Year.
The 36-year-old former Barcelona and PSG forward, led Argentina to win the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the only trophy missing from his profile.
Barely months later, he snubbed big cash move to Saudi Arabia Pro League to join America’s Major League Soccer side, Inter Miami last July.
His presence in David Beckham’s team had immediate impact. He scored 11 goals in 14 matches in all competitions to help Inter Miami win the League Cup, their first ever trophy.
It therefore didn’t come to football aficionados when the petit Argentine football icon won his eighth title last October.
According to TIME magazine, “Lionel Messi this year managed to do what once seemed impossible, when he signed with Inter Miami: turning the US into a Soccer country.”
It further stressed that the coming of Messi to the US, has driven a surge in attendances, ticket prices, merchandise sales and viewership of MLS matches.
Messi, who in 2005 denied Nigeria winning the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in The Netherlands, returned three years later to also deny the Dream Team another Olympic football gold medal.
He led Argentina on two occasions to stop Nigeria from progressing to the next stage of the men’s World Cup at South Africa 2010 and Russia 2018.
His winning of the 2022 Mundial is the icing on his cake.
Even at 39, it will not be impossible to see Messi in Argentina line up at the next World Cup to be hosted by USA, Canada and Mexico in 2026.
Commenting on his decision to join the MLS, Messi stressed that his initial move was to return to Barcelona when his contract with PSG expired.
“My first option was to return to Barcelona but it was not possible,” he told TIME.
“It is also true that later I was thinking a lot about going to the Saudi league, where I know the country and they have created a very powerful competition that can become an important league in the near future. It was Saudi Arabia or MLS, and both options seemed very interesting to me,” revealed Messi.
He has now joined the prestigious club of past sports icons like swimmer Michael Phelps, NBA superstar LeBron James and gymnast Simone Biles who have won the award.