Lionel Messi's arrival in the United States was always going to cause new levels of excitement amongst the American soccer audience, but Messi mania is equal parts a celebration of his on-field excellence and the off-field spectacle that seems to define the experience.
Virtually every documented moment in Messi's American experience has felt buzzworthy and provided entertainment value so far, even down to the most mundane of errands. It's a reaction that exemplifies Messi's unique stature in not just soccer but in the entire sporting landscape, and hype is unlikely to die down anytime soon as the star plans a multi-year stay with Inter Miami.
Ahead of Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup final against the Houston Dynamo (live on Paramount+ and CBS Sports Network), here's a look at the off-the-pitch storylines that are drawing almost as much attention as Messi's on-the-pitch excellence.
Don't miss CBS Sports Golazo Network's Morning Footy, now in podcast form! Our crew brings you all the news, views, highlights and laughs you need to follow the Beautiful Game in every corner of the globe, every Monday-Friday all year long
Messi has played in front of packed stadiums for much of his career, and his stint in the United States so far is no different. The attendance list at MLS matches is a lot more star-studded than it used to be, though, especially as the schedule benefitted celebrities based in Miami, New York and Los Angeles.
He was welcomed by a packed house at DRV PNK Stadium for his first game in Miami colors on July 21, including a few athletes that also claim GOAT status -- tennis star Serena Williams, NBA great LeBron Jame and NFL legend Tom Bradywere in attendance. Kim Kardashian was also in attendance that night.
The stars continued to show up. Songwriter and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, rapper French Montana and soccer stars Sam Kerr and Kristie Mewis were among those in attendance at Red Bull Arena for Messi's MLS debut, while the likes of Prince Harry, Leonardo DiCaprio and Selena Gomez turned up at BMO Stadium for Miami's game against LAFC. Legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola was also a special guest of Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank for Miami's trip to Georgia, though Messi did not end up making the journey.
Even the less famous are turning up in notable fashion. People are traveling distances and spending hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of dollars for the chance to see Messi play, and though he has delivered their money's worth on many occasions, the experience does not always go according to plan. A fan notably traveled 1,200 miles to see the Philadelphia Union host Inter Miami, but there was just one problem -- Messi had yet to actually sign for the club.
Just about everyone who has had the pleasure of seeing Messi play has also been witness to another show -- the one put on by the player's bodyguard, Yassine Chueko.
The ex-Navy Seal paces up and down the pitch while Messi plays in an effort to protect his every move and was reportedly hired upon the recommendation of Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham, per Sports Illustrated. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is trained in martial arts, boxing and taekwondo.
It's a special set of skills for a man essentially tasked with ensuring pitch invaders do not make it onto the field and protecting Messi and his family during their stay in South Florida but it only adds to the Messi mania experience. Chueko is slowly becoming famous in his own right for his work as the player's bodyguard -- he currently boasts 214,000 followers on Instagram.
Messi mania has been full of talking points for those fascinated with food, including Messi's own tastes. One of his first sightings after touching down in South Florida was at Cafe Prima Pasta in Miami Beach, while the Hard Rock Cafe -- one of Messi's sponsors -- dropped the Milanese-inspired Messi Chicken Sandwich within days of his arrival.
The Messi-themed bites did not end there. Cincinnati's Busken Bakery caused a stir when they unveiled sugar cookies with the player's face on them ahead of Miami's U.S. Open Cup semifinal against FC Cincinnati. Nothing, though, inspired as many takes as Messi's Friday night dinner earlier this month.
Inter Miami left Messi at home for their match at Atlanta, citing fatigue, and the player essentially confirmed the news by posting about the pizza he enjoyed the night before the game from Banchero, a local spot that is all about Argentine-style pies. Messi's Instagram stories essentially broke the internet, forcing a deep dive into what is a pizza and what is not.
The conclusion? Messi's dinner was a spin on a fugazza, a style of pizza native to Argentina that is a play off of the Italian focaccia, and while it can be classified as a pizza, it perhaps is not as classic as a New York slice -- and perhaps not even the best representation of Argentina's spin on the crowdpleaser.