May 29th 2021 a surreal scene is unfolding at the Miami Freedom Park Stadium. The Inter Miami players trudge over to applaud the home support, Stoke legend Ryan Shawcross and Gonzalo Higuain lead the way gesturing gratefully towards the main stand.
The Miami faithful chant in Spanish along the lines of “Let them all go, not a single one left”. Baffling; do the likes of Shawcross and other English-speaking players understand? They don’t look like they do. Do the Spanish speaking players care? Similarly hard to tell.
The disdain from the stands that night came after a disastrous 3-0 home defeat to D.C. United, in what would turn out to be one of many low points in a brutal second season for David Beckham’s franchise. Despite an 11th place finish (out of 14 teams) Beckham has decided to stick with his old pal Phil Neville, in doing so he has agreed to undergo the biggest squad transformation possibly in MLS history.
The Clear out
Neville has not messed about with the squad clear out. Firstly, Rodolfo Pizarro has gone (loan with option to buy), Pizarro occupied a designated player spot meaning he was one of three players that Inter Miami were allowed to own who would have been otherwise outside their salary cap.
Pizzaro had largely failed to impress during his two seasons stay in South Florida. The Mexican international arrived for a big £8.3 Million fee from Mexican side Monterrey to whom he has returned. With just seven league goals to show from his time there, the general feeling amongst the fans is positive about a DP spot being opened up.
Defender Leandro Gonzales Pirez has also left on a similar type of deal, this time to River Plate. Youngster Matias Pellegrini leaves the club permanently after some shameful mismanagement from the club and a general failure to impress from Pellegrini himself. European fans may be surprised to hear that Blaise Matuidi is another marquee player whose services are no longer required, having been such a consistent performer throughout his career. All in all, around half the squad from last season have gone.
This is far from solely down to Phil Neville and David Beckham though. In fact, time will likely show that the most important business Inter Miami have done in the last year was bringing in Chris Henderson as Director of Football. Henderson is widely respected as the mastermind behind the recent years of success at Seattle Sounders where he implemented a superb squad structure, something that requires a lot more thought in the MLS than other leagues.
Phil Neville has been typically bold in his pre-season press conferences, going as far as to say:
“I never felt we were a team,” continuing, “We were always a team where individuals felt they were more important than the team.”
Only time will tell if the manager’s assessment of what went wrong last campaign is right. However, one issue that the board and Neville are certain on is the role of Gonzalo Higuain. Inter Miami are sticking with him.
In consistency with the rest of his career, Higuain has both been used as a scapegoat for poor team performances and rightly criticized for his uninterested body language. Regardless, the decision has been made to bring in a group of young, determined players to work around the Argentine forward who will be expected to add genuine quality in the final third.
So, who are these younger, fresher, and more determined players coming through the door? The answer is probably that they can’t be categorized under one system or style. MLS experience looks to be one of the qualities targeted by Henderson; Englishman Mo Adams, Jamaican Central defender Damian Lowe and Goalkeeper Clement Diop all arrive with at least two MLS campaigns under their belt. Whether or not these players will bring an improvement of quality to the first team remains to be seen.
Maybe rather surprisingly, Inter Miami have also turned back to South America, from which they have had such mixed fortunes. Young Colombian winger Emerson Rodriguez comes in with a relatively low-price tag (£2 million) which should help to ease the pressure which has burdened those before him.
More will be expected of Leonardo Campana who comes in on loan from Wolves. Although the Ecuadorian striker hasn’t exactly set Europe alight in his time there, he has proved himself a useful player in both the Portuguese and Swiss leagues, respectively. The deal looks to be another clever, low-risk agreement. Campana holds US citizenship so will not occupy a prized international roster slot.
Finally, the youth. It appears Neville is the force behind the drive for a younger squad by all means necessary. Christian McVey joins from Sweden and holds a US passport, the club will be hopeful at 24 he has a lengthy MLS career ahead of him.
Midfielder Bryce Duke (22) will hope to impress having had to take a step backwards last season to play in the USL championship. These deals combined with the club’s draft picks and a whole host of young players from reserve side Fort Lauderdale training with the first team, noticeably Romeo Beckham.
It is a gamble so big that, even as a neutral, you feel slightly anxious for Neville and his team. With a very credible brand, stadium and structure Inter Miami CF have everything but the important bit.
And arguably even more importantly than the team, Miami have an incredibly passionate fanbase known as “La Familia” who for two long seasons have watched their team drag their heels to bottom third finishes.
It doesn’t look like a massive marquee signing is likely before the start of the 2022 season, even with rumours as wild as Alexis Sanchez and Luis Suarez being thrown about.
Will the biggest gamble be not gambling at all? By playing it safe with a younger homegrown squad, the board are risking huge discontent from supporters who were expecting a Cavani and got a Campana, IF results go South.