Athletes from across the world have been ranked according to their marketing potential over a three-year period from this summer.
- Value for money
- Home market
- Willingness to be marketed
- Crossover appeal
Lionel Messi - Argentinian, 25, Soccer (3)
'It felt as though something spiritual had happened,’ wrote the Manchester United defender turned pundit and Daily Mail columnist Gary Neville of Lionel Messi’s arrival as a half-fit substitute in an April Champions League quarter-final with Paris Saint-Germain. Religion is something of a leitmotif in the Barcelona man’s career. Fans in the Camp Nou greet him with a gesture of worship. Japanese jeweller Ginza Tanaka has created a US$5.3 million solid gold replica of his bare left foot. The new Pope may be Argentinian but Messi is no god – as his recent travails in Munich amply demonstrated.
What he is, in the truest sense, is an icon: instantly recognisable not only for who he is but what he represents. On the surface, this four-time Ballon d’Or winner is almost parodically unassuming; the quiet little man with the scruffy hair and the ball, as The Guardian’s Sid Lowe once memorably put it, running alongside him ‘like a faithful dog’. But his achievements and captivating play precede him worldwide, even in the commercial sphere.
He can lark about with Kobe Bryant in first class on Turkish Airlines or play cricket – with a deeply suspect bowling action – in an Indian campaign for Herbalife and still be arresting. Adidas is sure to push hard ahead of next year’s World Cup, where victory for Argentina might end the argument about history’s greatest soccer player. Dolce and Gabbana, Audemars Piguet and many other sponsors will, too. Late converts to the Church of Messi should be advised that the tithes may be beyond them after that. EC