Lionel Messi - Argentinian, 24, Soccer (4)
Sport is unceasingly fickle. A remarkable year for three-time Fifa Ballon D’Or winner Lionel Messi just had to end with his all-conquering Barcelona losing two major titles in four April days.
A home league defeat to Real Madrid was sandwiched by an extraordinary Uefa Champions League exit at the hands of Chelsea. The latter proved an object lesson in fine margins and fine defending, with a jaded Messi missing a decisive penalty in the return leg.
Still, years of excellence and a world record 70-plus-goal season are not easily forgotten. In March, after the Argentinian had broken the Barcelona scoring record, his manager Pep Guardiola made a comparison with Michael Jordan which should be instructive to sponsors.
Messi’s humility makes him the ideal Unicef ambassador but he is hardly the most effusive of public figures. Nonetheless, his deeds now speak for themselves to the widest audience imaginable; they are a peg for campaigns in the same way as those of Jordan or a prime, untarnished Tiger Woods.
Plenty of brands have already noticed, of course – Adidas, Pepsi, Lays, Audemars Piguet, Herbalife and Dolce & Gabbana contribute to an annual sponsorship income that Forbes values at US$19 million – but his commercial profile can still evolve. In November, Fifa videogame publisher EA Sports hailed ‘the biggest transfer deal of the season’ when it lured him from rival Konami.
Not forgetting, the Messi comeback trail might lead to a first World Cup win in Brazil in 2014.