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The ‘Vice City’ Guide to Lionel Messi in Miami

Breaking down the GOAT’s move to Major League Soccer, one ‘Grand Theft Auto’ mission at a time

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Lionel Messi is moving to Inter Miami CF. I don’t like to brag—no, really, modesty is my greatest weakness—but I feel that I am more qualified to analyze this move than anyone else living. This is because, although I have never spent any time in Miami, I have spent a horrific amount of time playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a game that depicts Florida’s largest, tealest city with what I assume is strict documentary realism. How many hours have I spent playing Vice City? Great question. I’ll tell you what, fuckwad: Slide by me on a moped when I’m strolling down the sidewalk and you might find out … when I steal that moped out from under you.

Therefore, I believe I am uniquely well suited to explore the economic, cultural, and geopolitical dimensions of Messi’s big move.

Let’s break this thing down like true scholars: by character, faction, and mission.

You, the Player Character

Lionel Andrés “Leo” Messi

You’ve been away a long time. You’ve survived, even thrived, but the years have left some marks on you. Now the moment has finally come for a fresh start. Why Vice City? Let’s just say you’re ready to put some distance between yourself and your old gang. They say they want you back, but after the way they treated you last time? Sorry, no can do. Trust is like money. It doesn’t grow on trees. You have to earn it. Time to step off the plane in your brand-new city and figure out how to earn a little—OK, a lot—of both, one mission at a time.

Besides, this town looks ripe for the taking. There are a lot of players out here on the U.S. streets, but no one here has ever seen anything like you. LA Galaxy? LAFC? Please. You can take those yokels down with a screwdriver and a Mr Whoopee truck. The NFL? It may be America’s most popular domestic entertainment, but you’re global, baby. You’ve got a knapsack full of a World Cup trophy and a head full of dreams, and you’re not going to stop blasting, kicking, detonating, and flamethrowing till the last note of “Broken Wings” fades out on Emotion 98.3.

Favorite weapon: Ballon d’Or trophy (melee), soccer ball (ranged)

Favorite ride: The Sanchez dirt bike, because it’s small and agile and occasionally glitches through solid objects, just like you

First mission: “Let’s Get Unveiled” (cause a riot at your introductory press conference)

Final mission: “Revenge Is a Dish Best Served at 127 Degrees” (defeat FC Barcelona in a $1 billion summer exhibition match in Doha)

Key Allies

David Beckham (a.k.a. Becks, a.k.a. Golden Balls; Inter Miami Co-owner)

Technically, he’s your boss, but you both know that’s not how this works. His $25 million investment in Inter Miami has multiplied in value several times over since the club played its first match in 2020, and now that you’re in town, he might be sitting on a ten-figure gold mine. Forbes says Miami ticket prices have jumped 1,000 percent, and that was before your signing was even officially announced. D.C. United fans are so fired up about your arrival that there’s reportedly been a run on tickets to a match you’re not even playing in.

And that’s only the beginning. Throw in sponsorships, merchandising, all the little peripheral fees and perks that come with having the best of all time on the payroll, and hoo boy. D-Becks just might be adding a new swimming pool to his designer Henley closet.

What to make of your new quasi-employer? Well, you could say there’s something a little ridiculous about an aging sex symbol. You could say that at this point, Golden Balls is mostly famous for being famous. But remember, this is the star who truly put MLS on the map. If there’s one thing he knows, it’s how to navigate the labyrinth of contemporary celebrity while getting handsomely paid—and when you’ve got those cheekbones, “handsomely” means something. Keep him as close as the scent of a subtle and extremely expensive aftershave. He just might be the secret crampon that helps you reach the mountaintop.

Favorite weapon: .308 sniper with bendable bullets

Favorite ride: Infernus supercar

First mission: “Palm Bleach, Baby” (take a ride with the boss to buy hair products)

Final mission: “Spice Whirled” (distract the paparazzi while Becks and his wife take Will and Kate to lunch at Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop)

Inter Miami/MLS

You know what? Fine. Your new team doesn’t quite live up to the standards you’re used to. Not in terms of athletic prowess or in terms of cultural power. Inter Miami sits dead last in the MLS Eastern Conference and fired its coach, Phil Neville, just last week. And MLS? Going by revenue, it’s the fifth-biggest sports league in America. Yeah, there’s a mismatch here. You’re the biggest sports star in the world, and you just hitched your wagon to one of the dinkiest teams in a league so second fiddle it’s practically a viola. You’re not even playing for the biggest team called Inter!

But you know what else? MLS could be primed to blow up (in the good way, not in the helicopter-colliding-with-a-suspension-bridge way). There’s a massive new Apple TV+ deal, and people are saying you may be getting a percentage of it. There are fans in the stands. They’re passionate, unlike the sleepy suburbanites at Major League Baseball games. The World Cup is coming to the U.S. in 2026, which will mean a groundswell of new interest in the game. And Inter (Miami Version) (Beckham’s Version) is reportedly ready to sign a whole bunch of your best friends to help you take over. Is Miami in 2023 about to look like Barcelona circa 2010? Could be. Just don’t tell the IRS.

Members of Inter fan clubs Nación Rosa y Negro, the Siege, Southern Legion, and Vice City 1896 will spawn randomly on sidewalks and fight against your enemies; Luis Suárez will spawn during select boss fights and attack the boss’s henchmen with his teeth.


FC Barcelona

Your old gang. Your first club. The organization that made you and then threw you away. They were your family, and they stabbed you in the back. They shipped you off to Paris, where you never fit in. Then you won the World Cup, and all of a sudden it was “We miss you, Leo; come back, Leo.” A lot of pretty words. Well, pretty words and 500 million euros might get a team Cristiano Ronaldo for two years, but you know hot air when it blasts you in the face. Oh sure, you said all the right things. You expressed your love of your boyhood club. You said you wanted to go back. What else were you supposed to do? But make no mistake. Your revenge tour is in full swing, and it won’t be over until a weeping Pep Guardiola carries the broken body of Joan Laporta down the steps of the Sagrada Família while “Total Eclipse of the Heart” thunders down from every speaker in the world.

Loyalty? You’ve got to give it to get it, my socio friends. Hope everyone on the Barca board feels restructuring the debt was worth it.

Barcelona club executives will spawn when your wanted level exceeds two stars and reveal your location to the police.

Saudi Minister of Sport Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Saud

It looked like such a sure thing. After all, you’d joined the payroll of one money-drenched oil state already when you signed with the Qatar-controlled PSG. You’d tamely donned the Qatari bisht while lifting the World Cup trophy in 2022, abetting what many people saw as a flagrant act of sportswashing. And your eternal peer and counterpart Ronaldo had taken a pile of cash the size of Florida to move to Al Nassr FC just last year. New pieces of the sports pie were being speared by petro-oligarchic thumbs practically every day. Golf? It’s theirs now. Karim Benzema? N’Golo Kante? Why would you be any different?

And then: nope. What stopped you from taking what some were speculating could have been a 1 billion euro deal? You must have your reasons. Maybe you were worried about tarnishing your legacy. Maybe you still see America the way soccer players used to see it, as the biggest market to crack. Maybe you really like pink Corvettes and sports coats with the sleeves pushed up. Whatever the case, your choice—coming just one day after the PGA capitulated to Saudi money—is a stunning blow to the narrative that the Saudis can buy whatever they want. Maybe Prince Abdulaziz will keep holding out hope. You’re still only 35, after all. A couple of years from now, who knows? But in the meantime, don’t look for any favors from one Gulf as you try to conquer the other.

Favorite weapon: The structures of global capitalism

Favorite ride: Maverick helicopter

First mission: “Say Hello to My Little Frenemy” (pick up Jordi Alba from the airport while dodging the prince’s agents)

Final mission: “The Reign in Spain” (steal the cache of Goya paintings from the prince’s secret vault under the Biltmore Hotel)

PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan

On the one hand, you did this shit-eating pipsqueak a favor. By announcing your move to Miami the day after he stood next to Saudi Public Investment Fund director Yasir Al-Rumayyan and announced the PGA’s new “partnership” with LIV Golf, you took the spotlight off his world-historical hypocrisy after barely 24 hours. For a dude who basically accused LIV golfers of planning 9/11 before, um, something gave him a sincere change of heart, this was a true gift. The announcement made you the biggest story in sports, which made him not the biggest story in sports. And that’s a real time-saver for anyone who’s busy speccing out the new yacht that they are totally paying for themselves with no help from any outside sources whatsoever, why do you ask?

On the other hand, though? You just left this dude holding the world’s smelliest bag, and he’s still the second-biggest story in sports. If you go with the Saudis like you’re supposed to, the narrative becomes “the Saudis own sports now, it was all inevitable,” and the PGA looks like it just got swept up in some giant structural change that was bigger than any one commissioner. Even if you’d gone back to Barcelona, the sheer scale of the joyous-reunion narrative would have pushed golf farther down the page. But to move to a smallish American club? One day after the PGA sold out? That is some real “Kevin Durant quietly re-ups with the Thunder just as LeBron airs The Decision” shit. With that one act, you’ve turned the narrative upside down and knocked this man’s spine out of his body, which is impressive considering he didn’t appear to have a spine in the first place.

Monahan won’t be the most terrifying threat if you see him coming, but watch your back in dark alleys. Golf clubs have a long reach, and there are a lot of them in Miami.

Favorite weapon: Rhetoric (dishonest); brass knuckles (used to hit himself in the face)

Favorite ride: Trashmaster (self-explanatory)

First mission: “By the Dawn’s Early Light” (deliver a suitcase full of oil money to Monahan while he delivers a speech at a patriotic rally)

Final mission: “The Twilight’s Last Gleaming” (defeat Monahan in a game of mini-golf to save the life of the secretary of state)

GTA: Leo Messi goes on sale July 21. Discount codes will not be honored at this time. You’re welcome.