Lionel Messi's three-year streak ends as Inter Miami boss hits out at critics

It was the first time since the May 16, 2021 that Messi had lost a club game he had scored in (Image: Getty)

Inter Miami manager Tata Martino has dismissed claims that Lionel Messi is “saving himself” for the Copa America after a three-year record of the World Cup winner came crashing down with a 3-1 MLS defeat to Atlanta United. The 36-year-old scored in the defeat that kept Inter Miami top of the Eastern Conference for the time being, with last year’s Conference champions, Cincinnati, a point and a game in hand behind.

The defeat was the first time since May 16, 2021 that Messi had lost a club game he had scored in, with the last coming in a 2-1 loss to Celta Vigo back when he was at Barcelona. After the game, it was also suggested that Messi has his eye on this summer’s Copa America, which will play out in the U.S. as Argentina looks to defend its South American crown from Brazil and Co.

Martino was quick to dismiss that Messi’s mind is away from Inter Miami ahead of the international tournament, which starts at the end of June with the first group stage game against Canada being played in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “No, I will not speculate if Messi is saving himself for Copa America because [that question has] no validity,” Martino said.

Martino added: “There are no positives to take from this game. We were missing a step against Atlanta, we took a step backward from how we had been playing, and that was totally unexpected. I saw no signs of fatigue in training on Monday or Tuesday. I don’t have to do a deep analysis of what went wrong because everything went wrong.”

Inter Miami were defeated 3-1 by Atlanta United (Image: Getty)

How Inter Miami will fare without Messi while the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner is away with Argentina is unknown at this point. But he could end up bringing an Argentine teammate with him to Miami at some point this year. Angel Di Maria, an Argentina legend having scored in the country’s recent Copa America, Finalissima and World Cup victories, is linked with a transfer having left Benfica at the end of his contract.

According to A Bola, Di Maria will link up with his boyhood club Rosario Central for six months before heading north to Miami to join Messi. Di Maria would also play alongside his former Barcelona rivals, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez, should the 38-year-old complete the sensational transfer.

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Tata Martino has dismissed claims that Messi is ‘saving himself’ for the Copa America (Image: Getty)

Argentina’s performance this summer could also play a part in whether Messi decides to continue playing international football despite his country’s World Cup title defence taking place in 2026 in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Julian Alvarez of Manchester City is hoping the football icon continues regardless of this summer’s outcome.

“Let’s hope so,” Alvarez told ESPN when asked if Messi will remain part of Argentina’s set-up. “He’s going to decide until when, but we want him to be there, it’s better.”