Lionel Messi’s goodwill tour of the Americas may have done more to damage the Argentine soccer great’s reputation than it did to fill the coffers of his charity foundation, with fans in Chicago now following those in Los Angeles who say they spent several thousands of dollars for a meeting with Messi that never came.
Promoters sold more than 75 VIP tickets to last Saturday’s exhibition match at Chicago’s Soldier Field to fans who paid up to $2,500 for a package they were promised would include on-field seating, a meet-and-greet with Messi and other players, and memorabilia signed by the four-time FIFA World Player of the Year.
Instead fans were given what one called “a cheap plastic ball” and a T-shirt with Messi’s autograph stamped on it. Messi, meanwhile, left the game in the 68th minute and exited the stadium soon afterward without meeting with any of the VIP ticketholders.
Miami-based promoter Numero 5 had billed the event “as an unparalleled opportunity to witness the greatest athletes in the sport of soccer together on the field of competition before the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
The event, the promoter said, would feature up to 35 other leading players from around the world. Instead, around 15 actually showed up. The rest of the lineup included former Northwestern soccer players as well as one incoming Wildcats freshman. U.S.-based professionals Thierry Henry and former Chicago Fire star Carlos Bocanegra, who recently signed with Chivas USA, also joined in.
The high point of the match came not from Messi or any of the other professionals but from a banker named Matt Eliason, who scored on a spectacular bicycle kick. Before turning in his shin guards for a business suit, Eliason was the all-time leading scorer at Northwestern.
The Chicago game, the last of four scheduled matches, drew a disappointing crowd estimated at 25,000. An earlier match in Medellin, Colombia, drew just 12,000, losing so much money Messi reportedly received just travel expenses rather than the agreed-upon donation to his foundation, which works with children’s charities.
In Los Angeles, problems between Messi and promoters of a match at the Coliseum caused the game to be scrapped about 27 hours before the scheduled kickoff, leaving thousands of ticket-holders — some who traveled from as far away as Utah and Canada — disappointed.
The cancellation happened so late, in fact, a number of fans showed up at the Coliseum for the July 3 game wearing Messi jerseys only to find the stadium locked and vacant. VIP fans in Chicago and ticketholders in Los Angeles are expected to receive refunds.
And now comes word that a new effort has begun to bring Messi back to the Coliseum “as soon as the negotiations finalize with Lionel Messi’s manager.” Maybe they should just table that idea for a decade or two.