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Wayne Rooney: Lionel Messi ‘won’t find it easy’ in MLS

Lionel Messi was officially welcomed to the MLS with open arms during a Sunday night ceremony at Inter Miami’s home stadium — but one other European soccer legend who spent some of his final playing days in the U.S. said that Messi may have a tougher adjustment process than many anticipate.

“He won’t find it easy here,” D.C. United manager Wayne Rooney recently told The Times of London (h/t ESPN). “It sounds mad, but players who come in find it’s a tough league. The traveling, the different conditions in different cities, and there’s a lot of energy and intensity on the pitch.”

Rooney, a longtime star for Manchester United and England who spent parts of two seasons as a D.C. United player in 2018 and 2019, also apparently believes more of Messi’s former Barcelona teammates will join him at Inter Miami after Sergio Busquets was introduced alongside Messi on Sunday and Jordi Alba has also reportedly agreed to sign with the club.

“Everything is set for him,” Rooney said. “He’s got all his mates over! Busquets and Alba have signed for Inter Miami and maybe [Andres] Iniesta will join them. Luis Suarez too. Messi has a coach [new Inter Miami manager Tata Martino] he likes and trusts.”

Iniesta and Suarez, who like Alba and Busquets spent many years playing at Barcelona alongside Messi, have already left Europe for Japanese and Brazilian club teams, respectively. It has been speculated that one or both of them could rejoin their old teammates in Miami.

Martino previously coached Messi with Barcelona and Argentina and is from the same Argentine hometown as the 35-year-old soccer superstar. He most recently coached Mexico in the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup, where El Tri lost to eventual champions Messi and Argentina in the group stage and failed to advance to the knockout rounds.

However, Rooney was appreciative of the MLS’s ability to attract the 2022 World Cup Golden Ball winner in today’s environment. Several high-profile veteran players, most notably Cristiano Ronaldo — Messi’s longtime archrival and Rooney’s former Manchester United teammate — have taken massive new contracts to play in the Saudi Pro League.

“It’s huge, especially with what’s going on in Saudi, for the MLS to attract Messi,” Rooney said.

It is undeniable, however, that Messi will be playing on by far the worst team of his senior club career. Inter Miami is currently one of the worst teams in the MLS, a far cry from the La Liga and Ligue 1 powerhouses Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain with whom Messi has spent the past two decades. That may, however, work in Messi’s favor, according to another Europe-turned-MLS star who spent years facing off against Messi while playing for Barcelona’s main rival, Real Madrid.

“It’s a lot more chilled,” Gareth Bale told BT Sport in June. “If you lose at Madrid, it’s like the world’s ended. … They kind of accept losing a bit more [in the MLS]. There’s no consequence. You can’t get relegated. You lose a game, you just go on to the next one. … Every win, they celebrate like they’ve won the championship.”

Alexi Lalas reacts to the USL preparing to vote for promotion/relegation

(Bale did actually win a championship with LAFC despite playing in only 13 games there at the end of the 2022 season. Bale’s most memorable moment in Los Angeles came when he scored a dramatic late equalizer that paved the way for LAFC to beat Philadelphia Union in the 2022 MLS Cup Final.)

Messi is expected to make his Inter Miami debut in a Leagues Cup match against Liga MX side Cruz Azul on July 21.

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