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Wake up Tata Martino: If Lionel Messi is to avoid injury in 2024, Inter Miami coach must learn from mistakes


The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. With regards to Lionel Messi in 2024, Inter Miami head coach Tata Martino has thus far proven himself insane.

If the club is to make good on its exceedingly lofty expectations, Messi must be fit for the most important matches. At 36 years old, in the modern game’s absolute logjam of fixtures the only way to do that is rest.

It doesn’t take a sports medicine professional to understand this simple fact — anyone in their mid-30’s can undoubtedly relate — but if the Inter Miami coach needed a lesson, he learned it the hard way down the stretch of the 2023 season. Martino ran Messi into the ground during his debut competition, logging 594 minutes in seven matches across the month-long Leagues Cup.

David Beckham’s club would probably argue the reward was worth the risk, as Inter Miami secured its first-ever trophy by winning the competition. It came at a cost, however, as Messi would immediately crop up with injury issues, as an old scar tissue problem resurfaced causing him to see the starting lineup in just three of Inter Miami’s final 13 MLS games, and his absence meant the club finished well short of making a late-season playoff push.

You’d think that would be enough evidence to prove that if Messi plays too many minutes in too short a span, there’s only one possible outcome. Yet the Inter Miami head coach has, only three weeks into the season, once again seemingly overworked his most valuable and marketable superstar.

This isn’t something new, or an easy dig now that Messi is hurt — I’ve been screaming this into the void for weeks on end. And I don’t want to hear about how Messi needs to play to keep fans happy — isn’t that just another reason to keep him fit for action and avoid complicated injury issues?

If Martino doesn’t proceed with far more caution from this point on, Inter Miami will be down its match-winner for the games which matter most — a terrifying prospect for a flawed club which has thrown all its chips behind aging superstars with considerable fitness risk.

Lionel Messi to miss D.C. United match with hamstring injury

Alarm bells were immediately sounded when Lionel Messi was withdrawn in the 50th minute of Inter Miami’s 3-1 victory over Nashville SC in the CONCACAF Champions Cup on Wednesday.

MORE: Full injury history across Lionel Messi’s entire career with Barcelona, PSG, and Inter Miami

By that point, Messi had already done his part in securing the win, assisting Luis Suarez’s opening goal early in the match before scoring one himself to put Inter Miami 2-0 up at halftime. Yet he only lasted five minutes after the second half restart, and with the substitution coming at such an awkward time in the match, it wasn’t hard to tell something was wrong.

Sure enough, after the match, Martino confirmed that Messi is suffering from a hamstring problem, and would almost surely be unavailable for the weekend’s league fixture against D.C. United.

Tata Martino has missed key opportunities to rest Lionel Messi

While some injuries such as bone fractures, concussions, or others caused by blunt force trauma can be chalked up to bad luck, muscle injuries are often triggered by overuse, improper recovery, or other avoidable factors which contribute to a player’s increased propensity for problems to occur.

As Messi continues to age, his risk for these kind of issues increases exponentially, and set to turn 37 years old in late June, he now requires significant extra care to remain fully fit in today’s exceedingly demanding athletic environment.

Yet despite the lessons of last season, and the very clear warning signs at every turn, Martino has turned a blind eye to all of this and continually sent Messi out on the field.

Messi saw significant minutes in the club’s grueling preseason tour, which featured extreme travel as the club circumnavigated the globe, playing games in El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Japan, Dallas, and then back home to Florida all in just a few weeks.

In one stretch, Inter Miami contested two games in Saudi Arabia on January 29 and February 1, flew to Hong Kong for a match on February 4, and then flew to Tokyo for a match on February 7. That’s four games in ten days — in PRESEASON! And 36-year-old Messi played 88 minutes in the first match before cropping up with an injury. Then, he saw seven minutes in the second match, did not play in the third, and came on for 30 minutes in the final game.

Again, I repeat, this was for preseason. There were, of course, immense pressures from all sides for Messi to play in every game so Inter Miami could make good on their tour’s entire branding, but at what cost? By caving to immediate pressures, Martino risked sacrificing everything the club had hoped to achieve during matches that actually matter.


So, given that, Messi would see additional rest early in the season to make up for the early fitness issues, right? Wrong. He started and played the full 90 minutes in all three of the club’s first league games, including a cross-country road trip to the LA Galaxy on three days’ rest, a match which seemed to present the perfect opportunity for rest.

Instead, the club deployed Messi in that match for the full workload, and again a week later at home against Orlando City, and again against Nashville SC less than a week later in the CONCACAF Champions Cup before finally resting. But why was a home league game against an improved CF Montreal side tabbed as the one where Messi would sit? Make it make sense.

Now, as Messi crops up injured yet again, Inter Miami are playing catch-up just weeks into a long and grueling season, and will now have to manage the situation from a position of disadvantage, having taken a reactive approach rather than a proactive one.

Chinese military general and strategist Sun Tzu famously wrote, “Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight…Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.” General Patton declared, more succinctly, “Never let the enemy pick the battle site.”

In this case, the enemy here is Messi’s health — yet Inter Miami have allowed it to select a time and place.


Inter Miami are not equipped to win without Messi

The cold hard truth that Martino is surely struggling with is this — Inter Miami are just not constructed to win without Lionel Messi.

From a vacuum, that’s an obvious fact any team who goes all-in on a global superstar would face. Remove a club’s best player and they will always struggle — remove a club’s all-time icon and of course they will be hamstrung (pun very much intended).

Yet Inter Miami must have known that constructing their roster around a 36-year-old star would come with certain challenges that have to be met for success to be achieved, and this was top of the list. Navigating the host of matches in which Messi would rest is an obvious task Inter Miami would face.

Without Messi on the pitch, this Inter Miami team struggles in possession as opponents are afforded the opportunity to press harder and counter with ferocity. They do not have the playmakers to generate dangerous chances or draw attention in the same stratosphere as Messi.

Sure enough, a quick look at Miami’s results through the early part of this season reflect just that — their only loss came in the match against CF Montreal in which Messi was sat.

When should Inter Miami rest Lionel Messi?


Assuming — dangerously — that Messi’s current injury stint is short and he returns soon, when should Martino rest his star man? Long road trips and games on short rest are the best chances to do so.

A quick look at Inter Miami’s schedule gives a few good opportunities in the near future. Here is a look at Inter Miami’s fixture list the next six weeks.

Date Competition Match Location
Sat, Mar. 23 MLS NY Red Bulls vs. Inter Miami Harrison, NJ
Sat, Mar. 30 MLS Inter Miami vs. NYCFC Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Tue, Apr. 2 CONCACAF Cup TBD (Monterrey/FC Cincinnati) vs. Inter Miami Guadalupe, Mexico/Cincinnati, OH
Sat, Apr. 6 MLS Inter Miami vs. Colorado Rapids Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Tue, Apr. 9 CONCACAF Cup Inter Miami vs. TBD (Monterrey/FC Cincinnati) Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Sat, Apr. 13 MLS Sporting KC vs. Inter Miami Kansas City, KS
Sat, Apr. 20 MLS Inter Miami vs. Nashville SC Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Apr. 23-25 CONCACAF Cup* Inter Miami vs. TBD (if qualified) TBD
Sat, Apr. 27 MLS New England Rev. vs. Inter Miami Foxboro, MA
Apr. 30-May 2 CONCACAF Cup* Inter Miami vs. TBD (if qualified) TBD
Sat, May 4 MLS Inter Miami vs. NY Red Bulls Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Sat, May 11 MLS CF Montreal vs. Inter Miami Montreal, Canada

* Potential match only should Inter Miami progress to this stage of the competition

Understanding that the CONCACAF Champions Cup is a priority having progressed to the quarterfinals, Martino will want Messi fully fit for 90 minutes in both of those matches, where a potentially arduous journey awaits should they have to travel to Mexico to take on Monterrey in the first leg.

Thus, rest in the preceeding home match against NYCFC is an absolute must for Messi, especially considering he may end up joining Argentina for international duty the previous week should he recover in time. While missing Messi in three straight league games, this is the hole Martino has dug himself given the injury Messi is currently nursing.

Then, after two home matches in a row concluding with the CCC second leg, a trip to a struggling Sporting KC side would be another great time to rest Messi on short rest. That would allow Inter Miami to have Messi fit for a big home match against Nashville SC as well as a potential CCC semifinal first leg should they qualify for it.

And so on and so forth, you get the idea. This is the line of thinking Martino must take if he is to have Messi available for games that truly matter down the stretch. We saw last season that even if Inter Miami are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the playoffs are never truly out of reach, and having Messi for those critical end-of-season deciding games will make or break their year.

This team cannot even sniff the possibility of trophies without Lionel Messi, and overusing him in March will only lead to catastrophic disaster in October. There’s no other way this ends.

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