Messi can return to playground only if he is ‘well and confident’ again: Coach Martino

HARRISON, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 26: Lionel Messi #10 of Inter Miami warms-up prior to playing against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on August 26, 2023 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Inter Miami faced a significant setback in their playoff ambitions as Lionel Messi, suffering from “muscle fatigue,” was sidelined alongside his former Barcelona teammate Jordi Alba during a 5-2 defeat against Atlanta United, as confirmed by Inter Miami coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino on Saturday. 

Martino underlined the need for a cautious approach, deeming it imprudent for Messi to partake in the match at Atlanta.

Looking ahead, Martino highlighted the importance of preparing the team for the US Open Cup final on September 27th, where Miami will host Houston in their quest for a second trophy this season. 

The coach said that the focus remains on 36-year-old Messi’s gradual recovery progress, with the team set to resume training on Sunday, evaluating Messi’s status on a day-to-day basis.

In the immediate future, Miami is scheduled to face Toronto at home in MLS action on Wednesday. Martino conveyed a patient stance, asserting that Messi’s return to play depends on his well-being and confidence, reiterating their lack of urgency in the matter.

The defeat against Atlanta United marked Miami’s first loss in 12 games across all competitions since the inclusion of Messi, Alba, and Sergio Busquets in July. The loss impedes their climb to the top nine in the Eastern Conference, a crucial position for securing a playoff berth.

However, Martino remained optimistic, asserting that while the defeat was a setback, it was not a decisive blow to their aspirations. He reiterated that their primary focus remains on the US Open Cup, viewing the final as a singular game and expressing their eagerness to vie for the title.

In a recent development, Messi had also been absent during Argentina’s World Cup qualifier against Bolivia, demonstrating the cautious approach adopted by both club and country to manage his condition effectively.

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