As I entered the hotel lobby in Fort Lauderdale, I knew this wasn’t going to be a normal interview. Typically when I meet with a bona fide soccer star, I opt for one on one conversations to get to know them, preferably outside in the fresh air where they can feel freer. Not only was the air not fresh or free, thanks to a remarkable level of humidity, but there was a palpable tension. I was instructed to speak to the concierge and use the code phrase “I’m with the chickens.” I knew this was not a normal request, but this was an abnormal day. He picked up the phone, said “he’s with the chickens” and asked me to wait.
A large man wearing a suit that made him look like a henchman who gets dispatched after a 90 second hand to hand fight with John Wick came seemingly out of nowhere to greet me.
“Mr Peacock, he’s ready to see you now” and without waiting for a response turned on his heel and walked me to the restaurant in the hotel.
I expected to see and hear the sounds of a busy restaurant, the dull roar of conversation, servers and bussers moving with a dutiful intent, especially for a weekend morning. Instead it was empty outside of a singular table where a man sat unassumingly. I smiled and waved, he nodded, standing up to his full 5’7” height and came around to greet me.
“Thank you for allowing me to have some of your time today” I said, shaking his hand.
“Of course, I’m a great fan of your site.” he said as he motioned for me to take the seat across from him.
I sat down, taking out my phone to record the audio. “Do we need to wait for a translator?” I asked, knowing how he typically does interviews in his native Spanish.
“No, I speak fluent English,” he said with a smirk, like he was letting me in on a secret of no importance to anyone or anything besides himself and his own amusement. It was at this moment that I knew the next 15 minutes of my life was going to be more than a story for the site, but a story I would tell for the rest of my life. I started recording.
Charles Peacock: I know you technically haven’t played an MLS match yet, but what have been your first impressions?
Lionel Messi: First, I’m very excited about playing in Miami. I had offers all over the world and ultimately I couldn’t say no to experiencing the world famous Florida and all it has to offer. In my first few days I got to shop at a grocery store with barely anyone recognizing me, and then was nearly in a car crash despite having a police escort. I’m used to cities like Barcelona and Paris where I could never do or experience these things.
CP: How much did David Beckham’s influence have on getting you to Miami?
LM: A great deal. We sat down in Paris back in April after a few early conversations and he shared his experiences in MLS with me. Even though back then the league was nowhere near where it is today, staying in bad hotels, they hadn’t even started using TAM yet!
CP: Do the MLS rules excite you? I haven’t seen someone light up talking about TAM like that before.
LM: It’s beautifully chaotic. I told Donnykins (This is what he calls Don Garber) that the league structure and intricacies are fun. Like how David Beckham turned playing for a team in Los Angeles for millions into owning a team in Miami that is worth nearly a billion dollars now.
CP: Convincing you to play there seems to be working out how he wants (laughs).
LM: It has, and it goes to show the kind of growth this league can have and can continue to have with some basic improvements. I’ve suggested these things to Donnykins.
CP: What kinds of suggestions?
LM: A lot. I feel really passionately about the fan experience. The fans are the lifeblood of this game and their enjoyment of the product on the field is of the utmost importance. Look at the crowd experiences: MLS doesn’t even allow flares besides LAFC, at some stadiums they do paltry little smoke boxes and it looks like a HS drama production. Do you follow @Footyscran?
CP: Of course
LM: I do too! It’s great! I notice how expensive prices are here, especially for beer. Is a can of Electrified Jellyfish really $19?
CP: “Electric Jellyfish” and yes. What other things do you think MLS could do to enhance the matchday experience?
LM: Every field is mowed the same, I know this sounds trivial. Once we move to every field being natural grass every stadium needs to come up with their own unique mowing pattern.
CP: That would certainly provide more uniqueness to the league, do you have any thoughts on GAM?
LM: Garberbucks? I told Donnykins he should have actual money printed up with his face on them and hand them out at every league meeting.
CP: Another great suggestion, I’m sure you have more.
LM: I gave him dozens (laughs) but the two that I’ll mention here are making Kevinho MLS social media manager and doing some kind of sponsorship deal with my favorite US snack food: Pringles.
CP: I’ve asked about the league and what it can do, what about the players themselves, what kind of responsibility do they have in promoting the league?
LM: The players bear a lot of responsibility in helping to grow the league and get attention, especially showing their personalities. As a player’s union we can help with implementing a few new rules.
CP: Do you have any specific examples?
LM: Oh, of course (laughs). You know how we have hydration breaks? We need hair gel re-application breaks so everyone is looking their best. “Look good, feel good, play good” and all. More tattoo requirements and have some pre-approved artists to make sure the quality remains high across the entire league. Lastly, we need to really engage more on social media, posting more pics of us in our off time, especially enjoying time on or near water or working out.
The same man from before came to the table, his presence changing the mood as Messi turned serious.
“I’m sorry, it appears our time is up, but before you go can I ask something very important? When the season is over. can I come to the Compound and meet the famous chickens?”
“Of course Lionel” I replied before being ushered away.