Malappuram: Argentine football legend Lionel Messi's decision to join Major League Soccer (MLS) club Inter Miami would change the football allegiance of hardcore lovers of the game in Kerala. They have to shun a routine followed for nearly two decades while following the major football leagues with Messi leaving Europe. Messi fans in the state expected the icon would either choose a European team or leave for Saudi Arabia. However, the decision to play for an MLS side has brought a mixed response from the fans and experts across Kerala.
The major setback for the fans would be his absence in the Champions League. Many believed that he would return to Barcelona and lift another Champions League trophy with his favourite team before retirement.
"The decision of Messi is somewhat like retirement from the game. His performance in the Qatar World Cup made many youngsters fans of the Argentina national team. His absence from mainstream football would disappoint his fans in Kerala as the majority cannot watch him live. His popularity is at the peak since winning World Cup and we do not wish him to disappear from the top leagues. It's suicidal", said Shajurudheen, Kerala United football team coach.
There is no live telecast of MLS in India. The only hope is to sign up with Apple TV to watch live streaming on a paid basis. So a live-action of Messi would be a luxury.
However, some believe the decision of Messi would popularise football in the United States and hardcore football lovers would enjoy it.
"The US has no major achievements in football. It is a strategic move from them to bring the most popular player of the game to promote the sport there. There would be a mixed response from the fans, but those who love football would follow wherever he plays," said U Sharaf Ali, former Indian football team captain.
Messi's supporters are also flocking to their social media accounts to share their anger and disappointment with the transfer. The majority of them believe that he has more football left in the top leagues and the decision to play for Inter Miami is disappointing at this stage. Meanwhile, some fans view it as a strategic move to play in a less demanding league.
"Messi will make an impact in US football like the popularity Cristiano Ronaldo brought to the Saudi Pro League. It should not be considered a stupid decision by him. There could be a strategy behind it. He is a midfielder and he can prolong the career and we can watch him for a few more years", said Asif M, former Kerala junior footballer.
However, the move would revive an almost silenced 'who is the GOAT' battle between Ronaldo and Messi fans. The Messi fans had taken a dig at the Ronaldo supporters over the Portuguese superstar's move to a rather unpopular Saudi Pro League last year. They had questioned the ability of Ronaldo to play at the top level.
"Messi's decision would create an opportunity for Ronaldo fans to retaliate. However, the transfer of Messi would have the interest of his promoters like Adidas and Apple. The presence of a player of Messi's stature will generate more fans before the next World Cup there (to be co-hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico)," said Santhosh Ron, an ardent football fan.