Phil Neville to Miami? Where Inter Miami go from here after firing Diego Alonso

Posted By Harrison Hamm on January 8, 2021

Inter Miami parted ways with its manager, Diego Alonso, on Wednesday.

That means their inaugural season has essentially been a wash — aside from a couple of high-dollar designated players, most of the personnel that led Miami in 2020 is gone. Sporting director Paul McDonough, one of the architects of the early Atlanta United juggernaut, left Miami to return to Atlanta. A number of players have departed.

These changes leave Miami as something close to a clean slate. They will bring back superstars Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi, who are both still quality players but haven’t reached an elite level in MLS. They will have the opportunity to surround DP Rodolfo Pizarro with talent, which should unlock something more from the Mexican. Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez is one of the league’s best center backs. 

Besides that, there is plenty of room to add pieces. They let most of their MLS veterans leave in the offseason: Wil Trapp, Juan Agudelo, Ben Sweat, Lee Nguyen, and AJ DeLaGarza were among those who left in free agency or had their options declined, in addition to the retirement of goalkeeper Luis Robles

Phil Neville Miami’s main target?

Changing coaches at this stage of the offseason doesn’t make things easier, as it assures that Miami will have less time building and integrating a squad that fits the vision of a new coach. Reportedly, Phil Neville is a target. (One would imagine David Beckham is leading those negotiations.) Neville would be an interesting hire, as he was impressive with the English women at the 2019 World Cup.

Miami have had a relatively quiet offseason thus far. They’re constantly in the news when some worldwide superstar could be considering coming to the United States. The important thing for Miami is not getting caught up in those rumors. Shoot for those players, but focus on building a consistently successful franchise at the same time.

LA clubs offer glimpses of where (and where not) to go

The divergent paths of the LA Galaxy and LAFC are instructive here.

They’re both big market clubs with a desirable brand and location, plus fervent support in a non-pandemic world. The Galaxy have muddled along near or out of the playoffs for the past five or six years, gathering a superstar here or there but never building anything meaningful or sustainable. They’ve squandered their youth, missed on middle-of-the-roster signings, and struggled to find surplus value outside of the top two or three players on the team.

In contrast, LAFC immediately became a juggernaut by establishing an identity to go along with their stars. They brought in an established one (Carlos Vela) and dug up other elite players, like Diego Rossi and Eduard Atuesta, that provided immense value to their best teams.

Crucially, they found success with lesser-known players, using every roster mechanism to their advantage. Mark-Anthony Kaye came from the USL, and Latif Blessing was a hidden gem from Sporting KC. Manager Bob Bradley was a fantastic hire.

For MLS’s most famous clubs, superstars and trophies is the eternal pursuit. It’s not always a smooth road, as Atlanta United learned the hard way in 2019 and 2020. Inter Miami is already one of those clubs thanks to their location, their resources, and David Beckham. They weren’t good in 2020 (they snuck into the playoffs and lost in the first round), but nothing was normal about last year. Various players missed time, and obviously Covid-19 threw a wrench into things. They didn’t get to play in front of fans. 

This year, they have to find some players that can get them closer to the league’s elite. Gonzalez-Pirez is a great start. Matuidi and Higuain are very good contributors who, as you may have noticed, have a history of playing high-level soccer. Put guys around them who up the level of the team — most pressingly, they need a mobile ball-mover next to Matuidi and a left winger to play opposite Lewis Morgan. 

They should also scour the market for players who can make them deeper. Scout the USL, look to the SuperDraft, and eventually bring up some academy talent. (Felipe Valencia, a 15-year-old winger who just received a Homegrown deal, is a great start.) When more big fish start becoming available, they should be a contender already, a quality, stable club. 

A new manager is the first step. Perhaps Neville is that guy. Miami is a club with limitless potential, and they just have to realize it.

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