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Since the announcement of a historic and groundbreaking Inter Miami China tour, the most talked-about MLS club of 2023 has the spotlight like never before.
Earlier this week, Inter Miami announced their first-ever international trip. The team will travel to China for two friendlies in November against Qingdao Hainiu and Chengdu Rongcheng, but there is one man who the locals are really there to see. That man, of course, is World Cup winner and Ballon d’Or favourite Lionel Messi.
But when will Messi’s trip take place, and what does this mean for China’s relationship with the USA on and off the field? Here we take an in-depth look at the upcoming Inter Miami China tour, and what it could do for the profile of a star-studded American club that is still just four years old.
Inter Miami China Tour 2023: The facts
When is Messi’s China trip?
Inter Miami will travel to China in early November with the first friendly scheduled for Sunday 5th of November at Qingdao Youth Football Stadium.
The city of Qingado is a beach town, like Miami, and will be buzzing for this game. But The Herons won’t have time to dip their toes in the Yellow Sea, as they travel over 1,000 miles inland to Chengdu for the second and final friendly match on 8th November.
This tour could form part of the next episodes of the Messi Meets America documentary, with producers needing new content after Inter Miami failed to make the MLS Playoffs.
Who are Qingdao Hainiu and Chengdu Rongcheng?
Hainiu are a relatively new side, formed in 1990, who returned to the Chinese Super League this year after winning promotion. Chengdu Rongcheng started in the fourth division as recently as 2018, but have scaled the divisions and finished 5th in the Super League last season.
Rowan Simons, the Chair of China ClubFootball FC and author of Bamboo Goalposts explains that Chengdu is home to a growing rivalry, with another upstart club in the town. Sichuan Jiuniu is part-owned by City Football Group, founded in 2017 they are yet to reach the top tier.
“Bagging Messi and Beckham brings massive kudos to Rongcheng in the fight for hearts and minds.” explains Simons.
He is in no doubt that both games will be played in front of capacity crowds “given the massive media hype and the involvement of Messi and Beckham, delivering star power for multiple generations of fans.”
The David Beckham influence shouldn’t be underestimated, in 2013 went on a tour of China in his role as global ambassador of the Chinese Super League. The former England international and part-owner of Inter Miami is affectionately known as Xiao Bei or Little Becks in the world’s second-most populated country.
Is the Inter Miami China tour more than football?
In the current political and economic climate, the fact that China is welcoming a Major League Soccer team is an interesting sign. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened, in 1977 the New York Cosmos toured China with global stars Pelé and Beckenbauer in tow.
Simons notes that “Decisions to host such matches are approved at the highest level and they are designed to send signals.”
In 1978, a year after that Cosmos trip, China sent a side to the USA, and Simons wouldn’t be surprised if something similar happens in 2024.
Will the Inter Miami China Tour of 2023 be a success?
The South Florida side are cashing in on their star power, new and old, by visiting China with Messi and Beckham. The tour also serves a footballing purpose, keeping the squad together and getting in some match practice before the winter break.
It serves as a win-win for the club. The only potential losers are the Argentina national team, who will receive a jet-lagged captain ahead of their World Cup Qualifying contest with Uruguay on 16th November.
However, with Messi now fully fit following his muscle fatigue, the 36-year-old is eager to get more minutes – even if it is on the other side of the world.
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