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Two weeks away from his first MLS game with Inter Miami, Lionel Messi could be the subject of some backlash from fellow players in the league due to his status and financial standing.
In fact, one anonymous MLS coach told The Athletic’s Pablo Maurer referees should give Messi “the (Michael) Jordan treatment” and give him “every single call.”
Maurer pointed out a 2008 incident when David Beckham, who was playing with the LA Galaxy at the time, was on the receiving end of a high-speed tackle by Adrian Serioux of FC Dallas.
Former MLS referee Baldomero Toledo explained to Maurer officials did go out of their way to make sure Beckham was being protected at the request of his teammates: “(Beckham’s) teammates, they wanted to make sure we protected him, as a player. If something happened, we needed to be ready to react within the game.”
Serioux, who was given a red card for the play and received a $1,000 fine from the league, openly admitted to targeting Beckham while speaking to reporters about the incident:
“His salary and lifestyle has a lot of players thinking, `We’ve dedicated our lives to the game and will have nothing to retire on.’ He’s great for the MLS but me and a few others are going after him—he’s made us feel unappreciated. If Beckham can’t handle it, he can play ping-pong or tennis. There’ll be no line to cross with him, I don’t have a line. If he’s on the ball, he’s there to be hit hard. Coach Steve Morrow brought me in as an enforcer. I don’t take any nonsense, whether they’re rookies or big-time Galacticos.”
Beckham joined the Galaxy in 2007 on a deal that paid him $6.5 million per year in base salary and a percentage of the team’s revenue.
According to Maurer, Serioux was making around $100,000 per year with Dallas and the MLS minimum salary at that time was $12,900.
Messi, arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport, left Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year to sign a two-year deal with Miami that will pay him close to $60 million per year between his own salary, a signing bonus and a stake in the franchise.
The agreement doesn’t include Messi’s potential earnings through sponsorship deals.
Per Paul Tenorio, Tom Bogert and Jeff Rueter of The Athletic, the average MLS salary for the 2023 season is $530,262 and Xherdan Shaqiri of the Chicago Fire was the highest-paid player at $8.15 million before Messi’s agreement.
The addition of Messi in MLS should continue to raise the profile of a league that continues to grow in popularity after setting a new attendance record with more than 10 million fans at games in 2022.
Given the investment Inter Miami and the MLS have in Messi, there’s every reason for referees to keep a close eye on how opponents play against him to make sure the biggest star isn’t being subjected to cheap shots if there is any resentment over his arrival in the United States.
Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas has said Messi is expected to debut for the team on July 21 against Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup.