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Argentina’s Messi named Time’s Athlete of the Year for 2023

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Argentina captain Lionel Messi has been named Time magazine’s Athlete of the Year for 2023 after winning the Ballon d’Or for a record-extending eighth time and elevating the profile of the sport in the U.S. with his move to Inter Miami.

Messi played a key role in guiding Argentina to their first World Cup title in 36 years when they beat defending champions France in the final in December last year.

The 36-year-old had no shortage of offers when he left Paris St Germain earlier this year, choosing to sign for Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami despite being linked with his former team Barcelona and a big-money move to Saudi side Al-Hilal.

“The truth is that fortunately, I had several options on the table that were interesting, and I had to analyse them and think, even weigh them up with my family, before making the final decision to come to Miami,” Messi told Time.

Messi made an instant impact at Miami, scoring 10 goals in seven Leagues Cup appearances as he spurred them to victory in the tournament which features MLS teams as well as sides from Mexico.

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The Argentine’s arrival in the U.S. also made waves off the pitch, causing a massive spike in searches for match dates and tickets to see him in action, with fans also buying up his official pink Inter Miami shirt.

The price of tickets to Inter Miami games skyrocketed, while Apple TV, which has a 10-year partnership with the MLS, saw a significant increase in subscriptions, according to research firm Antenna.

“Messi managed to do what once seemed impossible: turning the U.S. into a soccer country,” Time wrote.

Simone Biles, LeBron James and the United States women’s soccer team have won the award in recent years, with Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees winning in 2022.

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.