There are five and a half minutes nestled into the middle of “Messi in America” that give you hope of what the Apple TV series could have been. They kick off episode 4 and start with Messi driving a car, speaking about the potential of soccer in America and his role in it.
“I don’t think about my legacy,” Messi says in those first few minutes, as you watch him shoot a commercial. ”I always said my goal was to pursue my career, or what I like. And then each person will remember me however they want.”
These are things that Messi has said before, and the setting is not exactly visually stunning. Yet still, it was almost a relief. This is what viewers want. Even a small glimpse at life away from the spotlight with the greatest soccer player who ever lived is something worth tuning in for.
Unfortunately, moments like those are few and far between in “Messi Meets America,” the series produced by Messi’s team, MLS and Apple that chronicles the Argentine icon’s first few months in Major League Soccer. This is a show built around the narrative of Messi’s first season in the U.S., the games undoubtedly must play a part in the series. But its biggest downfall is the lack of balance between on-field action and compelling off-field content.
Before we rode along with Messi in Episode 4, the show was mostly a blow-by-blow of every Inter Miami Leagues Cup game, including more than five minutes showing 13 of 22 shots in the 11-round penalty shootout in the Leagues Cup final. It feels more like a season-ending wrap-up video that teams sell their fans than a behind-the-scenes documentary.
Yes, the first three episodes had some sit-downs with Messi. And yes, they tried to better introduce viewers to the characters around him, most notably Inter Miami homegrowns Benjamin Cremaschi and David Ruiz. But they also lacked glimpses into the meeting rooms, candid interactions between teammates away from the field, and even scenes of celebrations or speeches in the locker room after Inter Miami’s Leagues Cup win.
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The absence of these sorts of moments is all the more disappointing because, when they do happen, they’re usually excellent and revealing. One of the best scenes in the show comes right at the start of the first episode, as Inter Miami coach Tata Martino stops to speak to a security guard when he pulls up to the team’s facility. There is madness around the team due to Messi’s arrival, and security at the team’s facilities has increased significantly. As Martino pulls up to the parking lot, a filmmaker in the passenger seat next to him, he rolls down his window.
“Morning,” he says.
“Who are you?” the security guard asks.
“The coach,” Martino exclaims. A smile spreads across his face and he chuckles.
“Oh, OK,” the guard says.
The camera holds as Martino drives into the lot, a smile still on his face.
“This is extraordinary,” Martino says, shaking his head in disbelief.
It is a great little segment just 15 minutes into the opening episode that highlights so much of what the show could be about. Messi has descended into a country where soccer is still very much an ancillary sport and where MLS has failed to resonate in many of the biggest markets, so much so that the team’s coach is unknown to the security working at the stadium. For Martino, who has worked some of the highest profile jobs in the world, and is coming off of a nonstop onslaught of negative press as Mexico’s manager, it’s part of what makes MLS so welcoming. There is far less scrutiny than in other leagues and other jobs; much of the motivation must come from the inside.
But the security guard’s presence is also a sign of how that current reality must be married to a new one that Messi brings with him. The spotlight may not shine as bright on the sport here, but it will always shine brightly on a player of Messi’s repute.
We learn plenty in that one scene. Unfortunately, the documentary spends the rest of its first three episodes leaning hard into the game action that we all saw play out already, in real-time.
Episodes 4 and 5 do a better job of providing some of the inner workings we want so badly. There’s that bit in the car in Episode 4, and then the start of Episode 5 which shows Messi getting his knees wrapped with ice and talking about the injury that limited his impact through the end of the regular season. Episode 5 also gives us a look inside DeAndre Yedlin’s life at home with two kids and, finally, a scene from inside the locker room after a draw at Orlando City.
But even with those improvements, a large chunk of the episodes are highlights from games, even the ones in which Messi doesn’t play.
The show does have interviews with Messi about the games, something that was lacking throughout the Leagues Cup run. Messi spoke just twice to the media during his first seven games with the team, once in a postgame interview with Apple TV and the other in a press conference ahead of the final. It also has interviews with Inter Miami owners David Beckham and Jorge Mas along with Messi’s former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba who followed him to Miami, among others. But while some of the interviews can be illuminating — Martino’s voice has proven to be the best part of the series — the show doesn’t do what we all hoped it would and could: give us insight into how Messi thinks, or what it’s like to be truly inside the locker room when a legend joins a team.
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Outside of Messi’s interviews and the insight from Martino, the voices feel too polished and retrospective rather than the sort of raw, in-the-moment drama that can drive a show like this forward. The show never fully embraces even the type of scenes within the team setting that has made even filtered shows like “Hard Knocks” work. This is not the no-holds-barred “Sunderland ‘Til I Die.”
It’s likely part of the give-and-take of producing a documentary in concert with the four major players in the current Messi ecosystem: MLS, Messi, Apple and Inter Miami. Messi signed a contract with Apple as part of his deal to come to MLS, and in fact, has another documentary coming out on Apple TV about his run to the World Cup title with Argentina in 2026. That relationship with the producers, Smuggler Entertainment, set the stage for this six-part series, as well.
But those relationships undoubtedly impacted what the documentary shows. World Soccer Talk reported last month that the documentary wouldn’t include any insight from Miami’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final, which it lost without Messi on the field, and focus instead just on MLS play, another sign of the influence outside of just the filmmakers.
“There is a true partnership: MLS, Apple TV+, Inter Miami, the Messi group, there’s an incredible partnership, and we’re all really here to provide viewers at home a greater understanding and deeper appreciation for a story that is being really reported-on every single day,” said Scott Boggins, the documentary’s executive producer, in an interview last month. “And we feel like we have stewardship of an amazing story to tell.”
Boggins said Inter Miami gave his team an incredible amount of latitude, but things were hectic around the team and league when Messi arrived. The games themselves became this sort of showcase away from the madness, and that’s what the documentary opted to focus on. It’s justifiable to see the magic Messi was making on the field, but the reality is that we wanted to see some of the madness along with it.
Time is a factor in storytelling and access. Boggins said his filmmakers have been embedded with the team essentially since Messi’s arrival, and trust naturally grows over time as the team and its players get adjusted to the cameras and develop trust with the reporters. That seemed to benefit the latter episodes.
Boggins said viewers would, “see time off the pitch for sure,” with Messi in the last episodes, and Episodes 4 and 5 did give some of that — and the producers seemed to have saved the best for last with scenes of Messi at home in the series finale.
“We wanted to find opportunities and times that we can not just say, but show why he’s relatable,” Boggins said. “To show the sides of him as a family man, as a dad, as a husband. And so what you will see in the series are those moments. It was such a rare opportunity to be able to give viewers a deeper understanding into Leo Messi and so we’re just really proud and really excited that the series can do that.”
Hopefully, the final episode, which comes out on Dec. 6, can give us a heavier dose of that type of deeper understanding by trusting that what we see off the field is more valuable than recapping what happened on it.
(Photo: GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)