There will be an air of surreality to Inter Miami’s first ever match, an away game against FC Dallas on February 22. For years, it seemed that this moment would never come, that David Beckham’s efforts to mould a Major League Soccer franchise would be scuppered.
Indeed, it was a painful process for all concerned, one that can’t have been very enjoyable at times for the former England captain. Now, though, the hypothetical is just weeks away from being a reality.
Even at this stage, Inter Miami are very much a club still under construction – quite literally in the case of the stadium being built for the franchise in Fort Lauderdale.
The club hasn’t even settled on a permanent stadium site, the idea being that Fort Lauderdale will eventually be home to Inter Miami’s USL team (essentially, a B team) and that the MLS team will move into Miami itself at some point in the near future.
Thankfully for Beckham, more progress has been made in the assembly of the team that will take to the pitch for the first time next month. The likes of Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC have raised expectations for expansion teams in MLS of late, with the former winning the MLS Cup in just their second year of existence and the latter winning the Supporters’ Shield last year after entering the league in 2018, and so the pressure will be on Inter Miami from the start.
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Many expected Inter Miami to be in the market for at least one big name signing. Edinson Cavani was frequently mentioned as a target, with fanciful moves for Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi even mooted.
In the search for a head coach, Carlo Ancelotti, Chris Coleman, Gennaro Gattuso, Santiago Solari and Patrick Vieira were all put forward as candidates.
In actuality, though, Inter Miami have adopted a very different approach. Rather than targeting players and coaches on the basis of how many shirts and tickets they might shift, they have attempted to follow a precedent established by Atlanta United and LAFC. Inter Miami have looked to Latin America for the best young talent.
This is typified by the appointment of Diego Alonso as the franchise’s first ever head coach.
The 44-year-old led Monterrey to the CONCACAF Champions League title last season, earning himself a reputation as one of the best young managers in the Americas, also winning the continental competition with Pachuca two years previously in 2017.
He might not be an Ancelotti, but the hiring of Alonso was quite a coup for Beckham and Inter Miami.
“He’s competed against MLS teams in the CONCACAF Champions League, and I paid close attention when his team was beating Atlanta United,” George McDonough, Inter Miami’s sporting director, explained in an interview, referencing Monterrey’s win over Atlanta United last year.
“All the MLS teams aspire to win that, and we just signed a guy who has won it twice with two different clubs.”
On top of this, Inter Miami have signed Argentine teenager Matias Pellegrini as their first ever Designated Player. The 19-year-old is considered one of the country’s brightest young prospects, shining for Estudiantes in the Copa Libertadores before making the move to South Florida.
Another young Argentine, Manuel Insaurralde, could also join from San Lorenzo.
This is a similar strategy to the one that has worked so well for Atlanta United and LAFC, looking to Central and South America to sign the likes of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Diego Rossi over fading European stars, the players traditionally targeted as DPs by MLS clubs (see Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba and Beckham himself in his playing days).
Inter Miami have also signed a number of proven MLS performers in the likes of Juan Agudelo, A.J DeLaGarza, Luis Robles and Roman Torres. This sort of experience of the league will be key to have a successful expansion season, but Beckham and his business partners have shown an encouraging understanding of the arena they are entering.
Miami is notoriously one of America’s most challenging sporting markets. Indeed, South Florida fans aren’t always impressed by big names – just look at the empty seats often visible for Miami Heat games during the LeBron James days.
Instead, Inter Miami – full name ‘Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami’ – have tried to establish a deeper connection with their community, seeking to reflect the Latin American nature of the local demographic. This is, after all, a city with neighbourhoods called Little Havana and Little Venezuela.
The first hint of Inter Miami’s success or failure will be provided in late February, but for a club that seemed to be stumbling and staggering their way to the start line there is at least some joined-up thinking behind what has been built over the past few months. Whether Beckham himself is to credit or not, he is building a club to transcend his ownership.