Jordi Alba is Neville to Lionel Messi’s Beckham but he is still bloody brilliant

Ryan Baldi
Jordi Alba, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Jordi Alba, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

It’s extremely difficult to become overshadowed within your own team when you’re one of the most decorated footballers of all time in your chosen position, a star recent arrival in a new, burgeoning league and still one of the most impactful players in the country in which you play. It’s probably only possible if you play alongside, say, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

By every measure, Jordi Alba is one of the biggest stars in MLS. He has won the Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and six La Liga titles. He played for Spain 93 times and won a European Championship. He played 459 times for Barcelona and was a key component in one of the most glory-filled eras of the club’s (and any club’s) history. And he arrived last year at Inter Miami, the most star-obsessed club in MLS, as a marquee free-agent signing.

But he joined Miami along with an old pal who just happens to be the greatest footballer of all time. Then, ahead of the 2025 season, another former acquaintance showed up. This guy’s resume is not quite as impressive as the first fella’s; no one would argue his case to be called the GOAT. He’s merely one of the finest strikers the world has seen in the last 20 years.

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So Alba, a standalone superstar anywhere else in MLS, toils in the shadows of his two iconic team-mates. And, to a slightly lesser extent, that of Sergio Busquets, who’s easily the best of his generation in his position. But just as Jamie Carragher once pointed out that “no one wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville”, the same is true of Alba and Busquets when their replica jerseys sit beside those of Messi and Suarez in the club shop.

Yet Alba’s importance to Inter Miami cannot be overlooked. For one thing, he is among the most durable star veterans in the league. He has featured in all nine of Inter’s MLS games so far this season. The 653 minutes the 35-year-old full-back has logged is the second-highest total among the outfield players in the Miami squad. Suarez, by comparison, has played 536 minutes and Messi, who has only recently recovered from a hamstring injury, has played just 405 minutes.

And Alba is as vital to how Tata Martino’s side plays as any of the team’s other headline imports. Heading into last weekend’s round of fixtures, only LA Galaxy’s Riqui Puig (hang on, is there anyone in MLS who hasn’t played for Barcelona?) had accumulated more total touches of the ball for the season so far.

Further evidence of how deeply involved Alba is in Miami’s play is found in the fact he averages 70.2 passes per 90 minutes – a figure topped only by Busquets and centre-backs centre-back Serhii Kryvstov among Inter players to have clocked more than 400 minutes of MLS game time. It is expected that a team’s deepest central midfielder and its centre-backs see most of the ball – less so a full-back. Alba averages a full 15 passes per 90 minutes more than Messi.

Alba is all things to Inter – a playmaker in midfield, a rapid, overlapping winger in attack and often the indefatigable last line of defence when called upon to intervene at the other end.

The former Valencia man only has one MLS assist to his name so far this season, but that statistic is deceptive – he averages the same number of chances created per 90 (1.4) as German winger Julian Gressel who, alongside Suarez (1.5 chances created per 90), leads the team in the assists column with three.

According to, since he arrived in MLS Alba ranks in the 93rd percentile for expected assisted goals per 90 minutes among full-backs playing outside Europe’s five biggest leagues. He is in the 99th percentile for passes per 90 and his availably as an attacking outlet is evidenced by the fact he ranks in the 99th percentile for progressive passes received and the 91st percentile for touches in the opposition’s penalty area.

“I don’t get tired of winning,” Alba told CBS Sports ahead of the 2024 MLS season. “I want to keep winning, to keep competing. If I didn’t have that excitement I wouldn’t have come here. I would have stayed in Barcelona, at home, not playing football. The opportunity was very attractive. I also wanted to get back with Leo [Messi] and Busi [Sergio Busquets] and now Luis [Suarez] has also come. So these were the incentives that led me to make that decision.”

To think of the composition of Inter Miami’s squad as an orchestra, Messi and Suarez are the soloists – the virtuoso headline acts who put butts in seats and dazzle with flitting brilliance. Busquets is the metronome, ticking away and keeping the tempo.

Alba is the conductor. He ties together every section of the team, knows what to do and where to be at every juncture and augments those around him with his expertise and endeavour.

The point is: Alba is still really, really good. And whether Inter Miami are able to reach their lofty goals for MLS success this season will depend as much on him as any of his old Barcelona bandmates.

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