No way home: As Lionel Messi moves to a new club, Inter Miami fan associations sprout across Kerala

Football fans from Kerala were heartbroken as the homecoming of their greatest player did not occur due to the club’s financial situation.

BySreerag PS

Published Jun 11, 2023 | 11:00 AMUpdatedJun 11, 2023 | 11:00 AM

Penya del Barca Kozhikode is the second official fan group of FC Barcelona in India and the only official group in South India. (Supplied)

Football enthusiasts around the world probably have the image of a teary-eyed Lionel Messi etched into memory as he announced his departure from Football Club Barcelona, a club where he spent 21 years of his career — 17 years as a senior player and four years at the club’s youth academy, La Masia.

The Albiceleste captain left the club in August 2021 for French giants Paris Saint-Germain FC as the club did not have the finances to renew the player’s contract. “It is not a goodbye… it is a see you later,” said Messi in his farewell speech in 2021, which kept fans hopeful for a comeback one day.

However, shattering those hopes, FC Barcelona was unable to provide Messi an official offer, which led the Argentinian to sign a contract with Major League Soccer (MLS) team Inter Miami CF in the US.

Messi’s name synonymous with FC Barcelona

The grief is not only shared by the Culers but by football fans across the state of Kerala.

Speaking to South First, Akshay, a Manchester United fan from Thrissur, said, “Although I am not a Barcelona fan, it is difficult for me to see Messi in any other jersey than Barca. The names FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi are synonymous in the football world and nobody can forget his contribution to the club for 17 years.”

“I read somewhere that David Beckham mentioned that Messi wanted to play MLS at least once before he retires,” said Sabeela Elké, a football enthusiast, in a Facebook post.

She added, “I was very happy to hear that Messi, who played a crucial role in bringing Barcelona to its current stature, is going back to his old ways. It’s a feeling that only Barcelona fans can understand.”

“After becoming the world champion, a legend like Messi has nothing left to achieve in his career. Let’s hope that Inter Miami will be a platform for him to explore different levels of the game,” she opined.

Also Read: Messi appears during ‘Kudamattam’ at the iconic Thrissur Pooram 

Messi will excel anywhere: Penya del Barca Kozhikode

FC Barcelona has numerous fans in the football-crazy state of Kerala. Penya del Barca Kozhikode is the second official fan group of FC Barcelona in India after New Delhi, and the only official group in South India.

South First spoke to Nishad Razaq, who is the treasurer of Penya del Barca Kozhikode.

“The fans, the club, as well as the players will grieve. A player like Messi has the talent to stay in top-tier European football for at least three more years. Everyone is sad that Messi will not be there in the European competitions and the transfer to Inter Miami came very early in his career,” said Nishad.

Nishad believes that if a player like Messi had returned to the club, he could have provided guidance to the young talents in FC Barcelona.

Penya del Barca Kozhikode members at FC Barcelona fans meet in Kochi. (Supplied)

“When you play with the greatest football player in the world, there will be many things to learn — how Messi approaches a game and understanding the Barca style of play,” said Nishad.

He added that following the recent departures of veteran players like Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, there is a void in the club.

Although the fans share their grief of the Argentinian not getting back to his boyhood club, they believe Messi will excel at any league around the world.

“Not just MLS, whichever league he plays, he will excel in that. It doesn’t matter whether it is MLS, EPL, La Liga or Serie A. Even in Ligue 1, where Messi was booed by the fans of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Messi’s individual performance has been really good. The unfortunate fans’ reaction was perhaps due to not having won the champions league despite having a player like Messi,” he added.

However, according to Nishad, the absence of veteran players like Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may not affect European football, as tournaments like the Champions League are highly competitive with top-notch talents.

Also Read: This Alappuzha coir company has big clients like FC Barcelona

‘Can’t blame the club nor the player’

“In the current situation, we cannot blame Messi or Laporta (Joan Laporta, the current president of FC Barcelona)
for the plight. To understand the issue, we need to look at how such a situation happened in the first place. When Laporta arrived as president of the club, we had 1.3 billion euros of debt. At the same time, rules like salary cap and FFP (Financial Fair Play) were introduced, which are stringent, unlike any other league in the world,” Nishad told South First.

He asked how a club could purposefully refrain from signing a player like Messi who can bring so much income back to the club and blames the regulations of La Liga for the situation.

“The La Liga president, Javier Tebas, is actually a Real Madrid fan. Although he says that his decisions will not be biased, somehow his decision has not been helpful for the club either,” said Nishad.

“Although, according to reports, Messi was willing to play for lower wages for the club, the Spanish league authorities have a rule that if Barcelona has to sign Lionel Messi, the salary should be a certain percentage higher than Robert Lewandowski’s. This made the situation impossible for the club to sign Lionel Messi,” he added.

Nishad alleged that due to the distinct FFP introduced by La Liga, numerous players are joining other leagues. He said the Culers in Kerala, as well as Messi fans around the world, are looking forward to having a farewell match at Camp Nou.

“A farewell and a statue of Messi outside the stadium has been proposed by the club and that will surely happen. We are looking forward to it. Although we don’t want to call it a farewell as we wish Messi will associate with the club in the future, even if it is not in the capacity of a player,” Nishad added.

Also Read: Photo of Messi cut-out in Kerala river goes viral 

New fans for Inter Miami in Kerala

On Thursday, Inter Miami announced on its social media the signing of the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.


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A post shared by Inter Miami CF (@intermiamicf)

Inter Miami’s Instagram page, which had one million followers prior to the signing, has skyrocketed to 7.2 million.

Numerous fan association pages from Kerala for Inter Miami have surfaced on social media since the signing of the Argentinian player.