Lionel Messi started on the bench as the stars came out Friday for what was expected to be his first appearance for his new club Inter Miami against Mexican team Cruz Azul.
Argentine superstar Messi and his former Barcelona team-mate, Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets, who also recently joined the Major League Soccer club, were both named as substitutes for the Leagues Cup match.
World Cup winner and seven-times Ballon d’Or winner Messi became the biggest name signing in MLS’s history when he joined Miami after his contract with Paris Saint-Germain came to an end in June.
LeBron James, Kim Kardashian and Serena Williams were among the stars in the sell-out 20,000 crowd, with many fans decked out in replica pink Miami shirts with Messi’s name and number 10 on the back.
NBA star James now stars for the Los Angeles Lakers, but he enjoyed success with the Miami Heat winning two NBA championships with the club and he embraced Messi before the game.
Miami coach Gerardo Martino, who coached Messi with Barcelona and with the Argentine national team, had suggested that the star may not yet be ready to play a full game after only returning to training this week after his family vacation.
For fans disappointed not to see Messi from the start, Martino wasn’t even able to offer an assurance that the star would come into the game.
“We’ll see, it depends a bit on how the match is, the circumstances, we’ve talked about it, we’ve trained, we’ll look for the best form for them,” he said shortly before the contest.
It was clear that not only the fans had been planning on seeing Messi from the start however, as fireworks exploded above the grandstands when the referee blew the whistle to start the encounter.
Miami co-owner David Beckham had urged fans to have patience with Messi and Busquets while they settled in to their new home and club.
“Leo’s still going to need, no matter how good he is, no matter what his stature is, he and Sergio are going to need time to adapt no matter,” said the Englishman.
Miami are currently in bottom place in MLS, which is now taking a one month break while the teams take part in the Leagues Cup tournament, which features all the top flight clubs from MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX.