Miami embraces Lionel Messi with marketing murals and Milanesas

The Messi craze in Miami — due to the arrival of soccer superstar Lionel Messi, one of the most famous humans on the planet — came to a head last week when he was spotted at a Publix grocery store near Fort Lauderdale, buying Lucky Charms and Fruit Loops.

Shoppers stared at and snapped pictures of cell phones. Casual outing? Publicity stunt? Who cares? Mr. Messi and his charming young family have landed in a soccer-crazy territory that has been hoping to catch him for years. Indeed, Mr. Macy looked like a local, in shorts and flip-flops.

South Florida has amassed a rabid fanbase for Mr. Messi, the Argentine whose signing on Saturday was a coup for Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami and for Miami itself, the unofficial capital of Latin America, with a penchant for celebrity. When the team introduced Mr. Messi to a packed stadium in Fort Lauderdale Sunday night, after a violent thunderstorm, he thanked the crowd in Spanish for “helping us feel at home so quickly.”

“I am so glad I chose to come to this city with my family,” he said. He is expected to make his debut in Friday’s game.

The team played a video montage of Miami celebrities greeting Mr. Messi – Marc Anthony, DJ Khaled, Gloria Estefan – and then performed a concert with Latin pop singers Camilo and Ozuna.

Not since LeBron James announced in 2010 that he would “take my talents to South Beach” (really, downtown Miami) to play basketball for the Miami Heat has the region been so infatuated with the impending presence of a sports figure. In the weeks since Mr. Messi announced last month that he would sign with Inter Miami, artists have raced to paint murals of him across the city. Restaurants have redrawn their menus to offer versions of what is said to be his favorite dish, the breaded meat known as milanesa.

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Footballers in Europe and Latin America, including Mr Messi, 36, have bought real estate and vacationed in South Florida for years, in part because they can enjoy a level of anonymity impossible anywhere else. But few people expected Messi, who played for club teams in Barcelona and Paris, to reach last place Inter Miami at this stage instead of Saudi Arabia, where he was offered a more lucrative contract to end his career. .

His arrival led to a seven-page publication in the Sunday Miami Herald. In a city once famous for its part-time paparazzi — actor Matt Damon, a former Miami Beach resident who is married to an Argentinian, said in 2009 that paparazzi only bothered him on weekends — cameras have hounded Mr. Macy.

He appeared as a pink goat, a nod to Inter Miami’s team colors and status as the “greatest of all time”, in an advertising banner for Apple TV+, MLS’ broadcast partner with whom it signed a revenue-sharing agreement. The Hard Rock Cafe billboard has him selling a new Macy’s Chicken Sandwich.

Argentine community in South Florida, The largest in the United StatesAnd it has happily swelled that the most famous man in South America is now one of them.

“Argentines have a great sense of pride about Argentina, despite decades of political and economic turmoil,” said Gabriel Groisman, the former mayor of Bal Harbor, whose parents immigrated from Argentina in the late 1970s. “We only spoke Spanish at home. We had an Argentinian-style barbecue in the backyard literally five times a week.”

When Argentina, led by Messi, won the World Cup for the first time in 36 years last year, caravans were decked out in the country’s blue and white flags as a celebration took place in a Miami Beach neighborhood sometimes called Little Buenos Aires. Last week, Mr. Messi dined at Café Prima Pasta, an Argentine-owned neighborhood restaurant where the most expensive dish, steak, is $36.95. Fans showed up at the tailgate for autographs and selfies.

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Argentine National Football Association Plans to build a $10 million training facility In North Bay Village, between Miami and Miami Beach. Mr. Messi is said to own a multi-million dollar apartment in an ultra-luxury tower whose selling points include a car lift in nearby Sunny Isles Beach.

Carlos Delfino, who left Argentina for South Beach more than 20 years ago, said that for Argentines, football is “like going to church”. He owns Barilla Liberty, a steakhouse that is a shrine to Messi and Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to the 1986 World Championship.

“Messi was definitely looking for safety and quiet – and the beach,” said Mr. Delfino, who traveled to Qatar in December for the World Cup final. “And warm people. Argentines like to go for coffee, and they are welcoming people.”

“We breathe our culture here: we know where to buy dulce de leche, yerba mate, factoras,” said Maximiliano Alvarez, who commissioned a mural of Messi in 2018 for his restaurant, Fiorito, in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. Mr. Messi’s arrival has already attracted more sponsors.

“For Messi to come himself one day,” he said, “that’s the dream.”

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