By: WALE ALABI
Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. –Shakespeare
You do not write your life with words… You write it with actions. – Patrick Ness
He is a goldfish. No place to hide. He is talented, swift and fast footed. He has a Midas touch, as whatever he touches becomes gold. Currently, he is perhaps the richest and the greatest star ever produced by the god of soccer. His name? Lionel Messi. Messi is the fast -footed, ever -dribbling, goal -scoring, money -spinning impresario in the soccer arena.
Dazzled and mesmerized by Messi’s exploits on the soccer pitch early in his career, the late football star, fellow Argentine and Messi’s predecessor, Diego Maradona said of Messi, “ I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi. Messi is a genius, and he can become an even better player. His potential is limitless, and I think he’s got everything it takes to become Argentina’s greatest player.”
However, Messi has since surpassed Maradona’s prediction. Today, he is the greatest and the wealthiest living footballer in the universe. Neither the British- born soccer star, David Beckham nor the Brazillian soccer wizard, Pele were able to match Messi’s goal scoring ability or professional exploits in their hey days. Yet, Messi was not born with football. But by a dint of hard work, talent and abundance grace of God, he has evolved and metamorphosed into a global soccer cabal.
Of humble parentage, Lionel Messi was born on June 24, 1987, in Rosario, Argentina to a working class family. His father was a factory hand while his mother worked as a cleaner. Messi’s talent became manifest early in life. However, at the age of 11, a damper appeared on the horizon. Messi was afflicted with the Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD), an ailment that stunted growth and required expensive medicare. River Plate, the local club in Argentina was ready to sign on Messi but unwilling to pick his medical bill.
While River Plate was still dilly-dallying, Barcelona FC of Spain appeared on the scene. Through their coach, Carlos Rexach, Messi was signed on by Barcelona FC. His contract funny enough was written on a mere paper napkin but it covered his medical expenses.
Soon after, Messi along with his father moved to Spain and was enlisted at the FC Barcelona Youth Academy. And thus began a career that has in the past two decades earned him global fame and fortune. Recalling the early days in his career in an interview recently, Messi said, “I made a lot of sacrifices by leaving Argentina, leaving my family to start a new life. But everything I did for football, to achieve my dream. That’s why I didn’t go partying, or do a lot of other things.”
On the pitch, Messi isn’t a brick and mortar player but a dynamo. He juggles the ball to sparkle, and to win. He is one of the most entertaining footballers of this millennium. According to Maradona, Messi was abundantly blessed by the god of soccer. “The ball stays glued to his foot; I’ve seen great players in my career, but I’ve never seen anyone with Messi’s ball control,” Maradona enthused.
By every standard, Messi’s goal scoring ability is incredible. As at 2019, Messi has scored 419 goals for Barcelona in 445 official matches since he started his career. Messi also holds the Guinness World Record for goals scored in a single year – scoring 91 goals in 2012. He is also the only player to score in four consecutive Champions’ League. And for his home country, Argentina, in 133 appearances, Messi had a total of 68 goals.
For his exploits on the soccer pitch, Messi has earned an avalanche of awards and diadems including the Spanish La Liga which he has won in a record of 10 times starting from 2004/05 season, the Spanish Copal del Rey, Supercopa de Espana, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Olympic Gold Medal (2008), FIFA U-20 World Cup (2005) and FIFA Ballon d’Or amongst others. Ironically, despite this litany of honours, Messi has not been able to win the FIFA World Cup for Argentina. Winning the World Cup would earn him the record of the greatest footballer of all times.
Beyond honour, Messi has also made fortune from football since he started his career with the Barcelona senior club in 2004. Presently, he is one of the highest paid professional footballers in the world. He earns an estimated 40 million pounds in a year. And from 2018, Messi’s weekly earnings from Barcelona were $667,000. According to Forbes, in 2020 Messi’s total income both on and off pitch was $126M making him the highest paid football star.
Indeed, Messi has rewritten the sporting rule book. His global appeal has shown vividly that sports stars can be used to market brands and products. It is a well acknowledged marketing fact that brands can tell their stories through sporting success. Hence it isn’t coincidental that Messi is minting money off pitch. As a global icon and influencer, Messi earns millions of dollars annually from brand endorsements and sundry marketing deals. The Messi brand is so big and influential that a country, Gabon once engaged Messi for destination branding.
However, before Messi’s advent as a sports celebrity brand and influencer was David Beckham. According to Victoria Fuller of the UK-based Pitch PR, “Beckham was the first front-page footballer.” Becks is the complete package – good looking, talented, a style icon, a family man and married to the most popular member of the 90s girl band, the Spice Girls. Before Becks, there were other great football stars such as George Best, who tended to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. “In some places, Beckham is almost better known for being a fashion icon, than he is for being a footballer,” says Fuller. Becks was also one of the first sports stars to secure lucrative endorsements and sponsorship deals with non-sporting brands.
And of course, there was also Diego Maradona. After his entertaining debut at the World Cup finals in the 1980s, Maradona became the favourite of brand custodians for the better part of the decade until the triple evils: drug, wine and ‘baby mamas’ did him in. Maradona was a baby making machine.
Perhaps, Messi learnt from the Maradona mess. Not for him the rambunctious lifestyle of celebs that dimmed Best and Maradona’s stars. In both private and public, Messi maintains an impeccable image. A UNICEF ambassador, the 33-year-old player still keeps link with his home country, Argentina, where he supports numerous charity and philanthropic projects. Although unmarried his Argentinian girl friend, Antonella Roccuzzo already had two children for him.
Apart from earnings from his club, Messi is one of the few sports stars who have become billionaires through endorsements and sponsorship deals. According to Forbes, Messi earns $34M every year from endorsements. One of his biggest endorsements deals was with the leading sportswear brand, Adidas. Messi reportedly signed a lifetime deal with Adidas in 2017, fetching him a tidy $12M annually. Other brands leveraging on brand Messi include Pepsi, Getotrade, Huawei and Mastercard to name a few.
But rather than squander his staggering earnings on frivolities, Messi chose to increase his networth by investing wisely in real estate, tourism and hospitality. He has a four star hotel in a beach town near Barcelona. Messi reportedly splashed a whopping $33M on the property in 2017. A room in the 77-room hotel goes for between$294 and $353 per night. Messi also owns luxurious hotels in Ibiza and Majorca. As at 2020 and despite the COVID-19 pandemic that crippled global economy, Goal puts Lionel Messi’s networth to a staggering $400 million.
For now, Lionel Messi, the little known afflicted lad of yore from the back street of Rosario, Argentina is the chosen one, blessed by the god of soccer. And who no man can curse…
- Journalist, author and brand analyst, WALE ALABI is the Editor-in-Chief of BRANDWISE (www.brandwise.com.ng). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org