Soccer Meets Fútbol by Jon Arnold

Messi murals show city’s connection with superstar goes beyond the field


Jon Arnold - @ArnoldcommaJon

MIAMI — By this point, Messi-mania is so deeply entrenched in South Florida that it’s no surprise to look around and see the familiar face of Lionel Messi staring back at you. Sometimes it’s in an advertisement, on the cover of a newspaper or on a billboard. In a city with the artistic spirit of Miami, though, it’s often expressed through street art.

Murals of Messi are brightening walls all over town, with no sign of stopping after Messi’s tremendous Leagues Cup debut saw him send home the winning goal for Inter Miami CF against Cruz Azul.

But over the last few weeks, art lovers have seen more than Messi when they take in some of the Wynwood Walls. Soccer legend Maxi Rodriguez, Argentine Football Association president Claudio “Chiqui” Tapia and none other than Inter Miami owner (and soccer legend in his own right) David Beckham have stopped by, invited onto the lift Buenos Aires-based artist Maximiliano Bagnasco used to elevate himself to the height needed to paint the massive mural.

“The visits surprised me,” he told “The first was David Beckham and after that a lot of other people were telling me they were going to come by, but Beckham changed everything. At past murals, I’d had visitors but this one really drew a lot of attention.”


Bagnasco was working on a different painting of Messi in Albania during Mural Fest Tirana when he got a call from Block Capital Group asking him to paint a mural featuring the Argentine World Cup winner alongside the message: “Welcome to Miami”.

While the size and execution was relatively straight-forward for the veteran muralist, painting one of the most prominent works in the famous Wynwood area was an opportunity Bagnasco cherished, even more with the celebrity guests who dropped by.

Everyone in the world wants to paint there, so I think it’s big to paint something huge in Wynwood,” he said. “It’d be important for any artist.”

Bagnasco had worked on soccer-related murals before in Miami, putting a photo-realistic image of Diego Maradona on a patio wall of Argentine restaurant Fiorito just after the death of the legendary midfielder.

The restaurant, in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, has drawn visitors for its Messi mural. While this is the second incarnation, it’s not a new feature. Restaurant owner Maxi Alvarez was fed up with criticism of Messi after the 2016 Copa América Centenario and decided to commission a painting leading into the 2018 World Cup.


“Within the soccer community there were a lot of jokes, people from Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras - in our community here in Miami. Everybody was making comments saying “Messi’s a pecho frio”. I was always totally against all this and a friend came to paint a mural,” Alvarez said.

In 2020, Alvarez replaced the Messi mural with the one that now adorns the restaurant, one that is bigger and more photo-realistic than the initial painting, punching home the message that the restaurant, named for the neighborhood where Maradona grew up, also is a very pro-Messi space.

That’s what Vice City 1896 wanted to communicate as well, but the Inter Miami supporters’ group did so with the community feel they emphasize throughout their organization. Vice City 1896 co-founder Christopher Moramarco designed a system similar to paint by number allowing for members to take a very hands-on approach as they painted from 8 p.m. into the early morning hours to avoid the South Florida sun. He estimates around 80 different members contributed to the group’s mural in Wynwood near the Veza Sur Brewing Co.

“We thought a community-driven mural was a way to go. The intention was to get members to come and help paint,” he said. “It was a really cool process. Different families, kids, and members came and painted.”

Rather than focusing on sunshine and bright colors, Vice City leaned into a side of the region that Messi, and other new arrivals learned about quickly last weekend when Messi’s presentation was delayed by a fearsome storm that blew through, then calmed enough to allow the show to get started.


I think Vice City wants to capture a bit of the B-side, the grittier side,” Moramarco said. “The weather here can be beautiful, sunny and then can be stormy and dark. I think the lighting represents the chaos or flip side of what Miami has to offer. That’s the storm the supporters bring, the drumming, the smoke. We’re trying to capture all that.”

The approach takes things beyond a wall that can make for great selfies into an interactive experience, with a merchandise line that uses the same graphics. Scan a QR code on one of the shirts, and you’ll get a 3-D version of the mural. Then it’s not just Messi’s face gazing out from a wall in Miami, he’s on your phone wherever you are as well.

But Messi is everywhere in Miami these days. As art and soccer continue to collide and as Messi continues to star in Leagues Cup, it should only become even easier for people in Miami to take a look at a wall and spot another tribute to Messi.