The Leagues Cup 2023 trophy has landed in Florida. On Saturday, Inter Miami CF claimed their first title in five years of existence by beating Nashville SC on penalties, capping off an incredible journey.
While the spotlight will have been on the players’ performances on the pitch, it’s also important to underline the crucial role that David Beckham has played in orchestrating the team’s success.
The London-born Beckham starred for the England national team and turned out for the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid during an illustrious playing career. He then become the first “franchise player” in MLS when he signed for Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007 - and his impact on North American soccer would be felt on and off the pitch.
He retired from playing in 2013, and by then it was already clear to him what he was going to do from then on. In 2014, the MLS management announced that the Englishman would be the owner of an expansion team based in Miami, the second largest city in Florida. With this initiative, the league filled the void left by the disappearance of the Miami Fusion in 2002.
In January 2018, "Miami International Football Club", known as Inter Miami CF, was born. The team could not register immediately, as they lacked a stadium, management and sporting infrastructure. As a result, they began to compete in MLS from the 2020 season onwards. Their first stars were the Argentines Matías Pellegrini and Julián Carranza, and in their debut they lost to Los Angeles FC.
In 2021, the Jorge and José Mas brothers became majority owners of the club. Until then, the team had been far from successful, 19th in 2020 and 20th in 2021 in the MLS Eastern Conference. They had never made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs until 2022, when they finished sixth before losing 3-0 to New York City FC in the Round of 16.
2023 was shaping up to be another transition year. Former head coach Phil Neville was dismissed due to results that left the Florida side as the worst-performing team in MLS, despite having the likes of former Atlanta United FC marksman Josef Martínez.
"Sometimes in this game we have to make the tough decisions, and unfortunately we feel it's the right time to make a change," Beckham had said. The solution to save their season was brewing up on the other side of the Atlantic, at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
"Who knows if in a few years you’ll give me a call," Lionel Messi had said to Beckham, via a video on his social networks, in 2018. This summer, the Englishman, who had kept a very good relationship with Messi over the years, picked up the phone and obliged. On leaving Paris Saint-Germain in France, the Argentine maestro opted to make the move to the United States.
His arrival generated a domino effect. Former Barcelona and Argentina head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino took the reins of the team. Enticed by the opportunity of playing with their former teammate, legends such as Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba were also signed, as well as promising young players such as Tomás Avilés and Facundo Farías. Such has been Leo’s impact on Inter Miami CF, that he has transformed them from being the worst team in MLS to being Leagues Cup 2023 champions in less than two months.
It would be impossible to dissociate Messi from the current success the Florida outfit is enjoying. However, it was Beckham who saw the perfect opportunity to establish a soccer club in the most Latin American city in the United States.
Although it took a few years to get results on the pitch, Beckham’s foresight and his long-running relationship with the 2022 World Cup winner have paid off. Has the next great MLS team been born this summer?