Trouble in Paradise: What’s Gone Wrong With Inter Miami?

Inter Miami Stadium

On January 29, 2018, Inter Miami CF were officially announced to the world as an MLS team.

One of the most well-known cities in the United States, Miami had long been hailed as a potential destination for the country’s top tier of soccer. Even as far back as 2009, FC Barcelona showed interest in forming an affiliate club in Miami. Suffice to say, that did not work out.

However, there was excitement around the team’s new formation. England legend David Beckham was one of the team’s founders and investors, and would undoubtedly help pull in some big talents. Indeed, 2019 saw the club announce their first two signings, a year before they would even play their first season: Matías Pellegrini and Julian Carranza, both promising talents in Argentina, for a combined fee of $15 million.

With Miami’s large Latin American population, it made sense that the club initially focused on that demographic for their recruitment. Indeed, the first MLS season in Miami saw players from Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Mexico, and Chile appear. The manager, Diego Lopez, was also from Uruguay.

Inter also planned more ambitious signings: in a delayed season (due to the pandemic), they announced the signatures of Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi, both from Juventus. With Matuidi a World Cup winner and Higuain one of the top strikers in Italy for almost a decade, the team looked ready to take the league by storm. Except they didn’t.

Miami were only able to play two matches in the MLS before Covid struck, losing both. Once the league returned – in a tournament format, they announced Higuain and Matuidi in time to lose all three matches. Higuain’s debut, a 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, saw him miss a penalty kick before promptly starting a fight. The signs were there, I suppose.

Once the league returned, Inter found some stability. They won for the first time in club history in August, beating Florida rivals Orlando City. They ended up winning seven matches, and squeaked into the playoffs, where they promptly lost to Nashville. A fellow expansion club, Nashville have been significantly more impressive since their founding.

The following season, Inter Miami continued to dig their own grave. After one season, manager Diego Alonso left and replaced by Phil Neville, who had never managed at the club level. They then proceeded to quickly dump all of their MLS veterans and bring in more signings, all while seemingly ignoring their youth academy, which was heavily invested in when the team was formed.

Then came the investigations. Last May, Inter Miami were slapped with an MLS-record fine for violating the league’s salary and roster requirements. Unsurprisingly, amidst drama the team struggled, but it was still remarkable when they failed to make the playoffs altogether. Once again, it was rebuild season.

This season, Inter Miami have essentially accepted their failure to build a team. In a desperate attempt to get a fresh start, they completely overhauled the roster, including selling their three most expensive transfers of all time. Blaise Matuidi, who the club broke financial rules to sign, isn’t even registered to play. Julián Carranza, one of the team’s original signings, is on loan at Philadelphia. He has five goal contributions in seven games so far, suggesting the blame isn’t solely on the players.

How much have Inter Miami learned from this debacle, then? Not much. They replaced all of their underperforming expensive players with … underperforming expensive players. As of May 1st, Miami have ten points from nine games. Only five teams have fewer points.

These days, the MLS isn’t dominated by European veterans or a single South American whiz kid. The more successful clubs in recent years – Philadelphia, New England, Seattle, and more – have put more emphasis on developing younger players, investing smartly, and being patient. Inter Miami haven’t done any of that.

Inter Miami are slowly wiping their hands clean of the failures of the past. Now they are starting to play players based on what they could do, rather than what they have already done. Talent Leonardo Campana has relegated Higuain to the bench, having scored more than twice as many goals as the Argentine this season. However, they need to do more if they want to salvage what has been a terrible start to the club’s history.

Image Courtesy of elisfkc2, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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