Inter Miami’s Facundo Farías has had to overcome the unimaginable to join Lionel Messi

Facundo Farías had never left his native Argentina before signing for Inter Miami. He likes the United States. It’s laid back, he said, and he’s enjoying life in Fort Lauderdale, where he lives with his wife Angi and their son Valentino, who was born in June. The couple are sometimes exhausted, Farías said, given that they are living here without family. But change can be good.

“She was studying her major but we had to move here,” Farías said of his wife. “She wanted to kill me! But I told her, ‘We’re going to play with Messi!’”

It’s a long way from the dimly lit streets of Los Hornos, a modest town in Santa Fe, Argentina, where Farías grew up. Football is king in Santa Fe, home to two rival clubs: Unión and Colón. Neither has won a first-division league championship, but in this region of the country, loyalty and club colors are all that matter.

As a child, Farías spent his days and nights with a ball at his feet, playing on makeshift concrete pitches and mastering the art of streetball. Eventually, his mother Mónica enrolled him in local football academy Corinthians de Santa Fe, from which both clubs poached talent.

“We played with bare feet because we didn’t want to ruin the shoes that we had,” Farías tells The Athletic. “My mother was always at my side…I grew up surrounded by love. My mom and my grandfather would always go to my games with me.”

An idyllic beginning in the game, soon upended. His mother died of cancer when Farías was 10 years old. Not long after that, his grandfather also passed away.

At 13, Farías would spurn Unión and join Colón, the team he had always dreamed of representing. His father and grandfather, along with extended family, raised Farías and his younger sister as he climbed the ranks.

“My whole family has been a pillar of strength for me,” he said.

As a teenager, he was dubbed Colón’s next jewel — a local kid who played with flair and grit, and who bled Colón’s red and black. In 2019, Farías made his professional debut at the age of 17. He signed his first professional contract in February 2020.

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Farías dreamed of playing for Colón as a child. As a teen, he signed with the club. (Photo by Pablo Porciuncula, Getty Images)

Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the world. It halted football in Argentina for eight months, and in 2021, the virus claimed the lives of Farías’ father and his surviving grandfather. At 19 years old, Farías was orphaned.

“I was 10 years old when my mother and grandfather passed away,” Farías said. “I didn’t really understand anything. My sister was maybe a year old at the time. Reality began to hit me as the years went by. I tried to view things positively because I still had my sister. I was 19 when my father and grandfather passed away, and so I was left in charge of my household.”

It was an unimaginable weight to carry for a teenager. He had some help (aunts and uncles from his mother’s side watched over Farías and his sister), but resources were still slim.

“I would go to training and then buy some things at the supermarket with my salary,” recalls Farías with a nervous smile. “I had to approach it all as a learning experience so that I wouldn’t give up. Taking on that role forced me to stay on this path. I didn’t want my sister to see me cry. I wanted her and those people close to me to be taken care of.

“I saw my sister as my sister. I was too young to be her father. I was 19. Everything happened all at once. The support from my aunts and uncles was very important for the both of us. We didn’t always have the means, but love and understanding was very important, especially when there are negative options so close to you.”

In Los Hornos, Farías said, football is a way out. An escape. The sport keeps kids away from drugs, addiction and violence. The type of grief that Farías dealt with could have been enough to lead him astray. But he remained focused on playing football.

“Substance abuse is how you can really lose yourself,” Farías said. “Thankfully football distanced me from those things. And so did those losses in my life. I had to focus more on football and not veer into other paths.”

When games resumed in Argentina, Colón found their form in the Copa de La Liga, a tournament that was created in 2020 to replace league matches that were canceled due to the pandemic. Farías scored two goals and added an assist. He and Colón’s unsung star, Luis Miguel “La Pulga” Rodríguez, formed a dynamic strike force that carried the side to the final. Rodríguez’s brace in the semifinal against Independiente grabbed the headlines, but Farías’ performance in that match also stood out. His profile continued to rise.

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Farías had interest from European clubs before his ACL injury. (Photo by Marcelo Endelli, Getty Images)

“That was a special tournament for me,” Farías said. “A lot of people in Santa Fe didn’t know that my father had passed away three days before the semifinal.” Farías missed the final due to a positive COVID-19 test. Colón defeated Racing 3-0 to qualify for the 2022 Copa Libertadores, an implausible reward for a bottom-of-the-table club.

Farías’ skill was now front-page news in Argentina. YouTube videos highlighted his Neymar-like tricks and nutmegs. Farías continued to dazzle the following season with his clever dribbling and bravery in front of goal. He scored eight goals for Colón in league play and in Copa Libertadores, which caught the attention of Boca Juniors and River Plate.

That summer, European suitors from Italy, Spain and England began to track Farías as well, so Cólon placed a reported $12 million release clause on Farías’ contract. He was set to become a big-money transfer for a club that is unaccustomed to such scenarios. But in September of 2022, Farías suffered another setback. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a match against Talleres de Córdoba. It ended his season and temporarily clouded his future.

“Every summer I was linked to a new team,” Farías said. “It never happened for me and that can affect your mentality. But my injury happened for a reason. I came back from it with a purpose. I wanted to be stronger and thankfully Inter (Miami) came with an offer.”



Inter Miami sign forward Facundo Farías from CA Colon

Farías wasn’t supposed to come to MLS. The league has become a pathway to Europe for young South Americans, but his performances for Colón had shown that he didn’t need a pit stop along the way. His knee injury changed that.

Farías was hand-picked by Inter Miami manager Tata Martino to be one of the club’s three U-22 signings that summer. The MLS side paid a reported $5.5 million transfer fee for Farías, opening the door to what he called a “beautiful” experience that he would not have otherwise had.

As negotiations between Colón and Miami were nearing the final stages, Messi was also close to joining Farías in Fort Lauderdale. Farías, unsurprisingly, has idolized Messi for as long as he can remember. The two Argentines now sit next to each other inside the Inter Miami dressing room. Farías lights up as he describes what it has been like to be so close to his childhood hero.

“You have to enjoy (Messi) as much as you can,” said Farías with a wide grin. “He’s the best in the game. He proved that. So just enjoy him and learn from him whenever possible. It’s a unique situation to be next to him. He’s a great teammate and he’s so important to us. To have players like him, Sergio (Busquets) and Jordi (Alba) on your team, these are players who have had incredible careers. Everyone respects them and that’s a plus for us. I’m learning so much from Leo and from everyone else.”

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Farías earned his first call-up to the Argentina national team, playing alongside Messi again. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports)

They’re galaxies apart in terms of football accomplishments, but Farías and Messi have some commonalities. Martino has used Farías in Messi’s No. 10 role while the Argentina captain has nursed a leg injury. “We know that Facundo can play similarly,” Martino said in September.

Farías and Messi have something else in common. After several failures at the international level, Messi was revered for his resiliency when he led Argentina to the 2022 World Cup title. Messi has displayed a level of perseverance that is attributed to the greatest athletes in the world. But in Farías, Messi has a teammate who has endured great pains in his personal life. Farías shrugged off any type of comparison to Messi, but he was happy to be an inspiration for others.

“I do see myself like that,” Farías said. “There’s always a dream that’s out there to be fulfilled. I wanted to be a footballer. I knew that I’d give everything to become one. If you have a dream, chase it with everything you have. Even if you don’t reach that dream, know that you gave it all. Being persistent and humble can take you really far in life.”

When Martino coached Atlanta United in 2017 and 2018, his influence on the squad went beyond tactics and formations. Both Josef Martínez and Héctor ‘Tito’ Villalba, two of Atlanta’s stars during their MLS Cup win in 2018, referred to Martino as a father figure. Martino is aware that his responsibilities with Farías will be similar at Inter Miami.

“This is a typical case of a kid from a humble background who has had to face very difficult life situations,” Martino told The Athletic. “He has a need to permanently outdo himself. He knows that everything is dependent on him. We’re here to support him. To advise him about his career and be there for him when it’s needed. To let him know when he hasn’t done what he’s supposed to do. Our role is to guide him professionally but also, and more importantly, from a human perspective.”

Busquets called Farías “a difference maker” and praised his versatility as an attacking option for Inter Miami. The 35-year-old former Barcelona midfielder has had to rely more on Farías in the middle of the field due to Messi’s absence.

“He can dribble and go one-versus-one,” said Busquets. “He has speed. He turns his body well. He can come off the wing or play as a No. 10. He gives us a lot of possibilities. You want to play with attacking players like him. Players who can unbalance an opponent and who want the best for the squad. In the little time he has been here, Facundo is doing all of that. He’s playing well. He’s adapting well to the team’s style of play and to (Martino’s) tactics.”

Farías has scored three goals and added two assists in 10 MLS appearances. On Thursday, Farías earned his first senior national team call-up with Argentina. He’ll now train alongside Messi and the current world champions as Argentina prepares to face Paraguay and Peru in two CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers. Farías was a surprise selection, made possible perhaps by the recent injury of Argentina’s veteran winger Ángel Di María. The circumstances do not matter. Farías has come a long way.

When asked to describe his life up until today, Farías paused and said, “It’s honestly been very difficult. I’ve taken a lot of blows because of the losses in my life. But I think that has all made me strong enough to be where I am today. Growing up, I wanted to be a footballer. If it didn’t happen, fine. But I would’ve died knowing that I tried everything to make it. Thankfully it worked out.”

(Top photo: Rich Storry/USA TODAY Sports)

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