DOHA, Qatar — There’s something concerning the idea of obtaining one in all Lionel Messi’s jerseys that makes even essentially the most experienced, sober opponents revert to heartfelt, eager fandom. They pursue him at halftime, surround him at the ultimate whistle. Teammates squabble amongst themselves for the proper to assert a precious memento of their brush with greatness.
Apart from a World Cup winners’ medal, there might be no prize more sought-after when France meets Messi’s Argentina at Lusail Iconic Stadium on Sunday than the 35-year-old Messi’s jersey. It’s, in spite of everything, prone to be the last word limited edition collectible, one in all only 4 — at most — in existence: a jersey worn by the world’s finest player on the earth’s biggest game.
The bad news is that it’s unlikely to be available, to anyone.
Quite what number of real, match-worn Messi jerseys are in existence is difficult to pinpoint. Argentina’s win against Croatia in Tuesday’s semifinal was, officially, the 1,002nd appearance, for club and country, of Messi’s senior profession. That doesn’t mean, though, that there are 1,002 Messi jerseys. The true figure, in actual fact, is more prone to be closer to double that.
Many players, in spite of everything, select to make use of two jerseys during games, switching right into a fresh number at halftime. Whether Messi does that in every match will not be clear, but he has definitely done so every now and then. In 2012, for instance, executives on the German team Bayer Leverkusen needed to admonish two players for arguing over who would get Messi’s shirt at halftime.
That there could also be several thousand Messi jerseys in circulation that contain trace amounts of his sweat, though, doesn’t mean they’re any easier to acquire. Messi maintains a strict protocol on swapping jerseys. His first rule is: He never initiates the exchange. He has only ever made one exception. Early in his profession, he approached Zinedine Zidane, then with Real Madrid, and asked in the event that they might exchange jerseys. Apart from that, he has said, “I don’t ask for shirts.”
His second rule: He would quite swap with one other Argentine. In 2017, he posted a photograph to his Instagram account of the room in his Barcelona home that he had dedicated to a display of all of the jerseys he has collected over time, each of them impeccably arranged, immaculately presented.
Lots of them bear the names of a few of his era’s brightest stars: Thierry Henry, Luis Suárez, Philipp Lahm, Iker Casillas. A majority, though, belong to his countrymen: not only his peers and friends, the likes of Ángel Di María, Sergio Agüero and Pablo Aimar — the player that Messi himself has described as his hero — but lesser lights, too: Chori Domínguez, Oscar Ustari and Tomás De Vincenti, all beneficiaries of his Argentina-first policy.
“I got quite a number of over time,” said Maxi Rodríguez, a friend and former international teammate of Messi’s. “I played against him quite loads once I was in Spain, once I was with Espanyol and Atlético Madrid. We never arranged it beforehand or talked about it. It was just each time we had likelihood.”
Rodríguez said that he had several Messi jerseys in his own display cases, though he barely sheepishly admitted that he doesn’t maintain his collection as fastidiously as Messi. Still, he’s doing quite higher than some players who swapped jerseys with the Argentine earlier in his profession, before he became Messi.
Stephen McManus, a former captain of the Scottish team Celtic, exchanged jerseys with Messi after a Champions League game in 2008. McManus doesn’t remember being especially motivated to swap with Messi particularly; more worryingly, he doesn’t remember, precisely, what he did with the jersey.
In recent times, as merely sharing a field with him has develop into an honor that players aspire to, getting hold of one in all Messi’s jerseys has develop into a competitive sport in itself. In 2018, the Dutch team PSV Eindhoven warned its squad to not pursue Messi at halftime to ask for a jersey, after the club’s manager on the time, Mark van Bommel, suggested it was not “skilled.”
As recounted in “Messi vs. Ronaldo,” an account of how the rivalry between the 2 finest players of their generation has shaped the sport, Messi was “surrounded by five players” from the French team Reims at the ultimate whistle of his debut for Paris St.-Germain in August 2021.
Gently, he had to tell the young Dutch wing Mitchell van Bergen — also a debutant in that game — that he had already promised the jersey to another person. He also needed to pose for a photograph with the 2-year-old son of the Reims goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic who had been summoned from the gang for the occasion.
At World Cups, though, the foundations seem a little bit more flexible, and getting hold of a Messi jersey is a little bit more of a lottery. After Argentina beat Poland within the group phase here, the Polish right back, Matty Money, was loitering within the tunnel when he was called over by Emiliano Martínez, the Argentina goalkeeper and Money’s teammate at Aston Villa.
“He said that he’d got me a gift,” Money said. “He told me to follow him within the tunnel, after which he went into the changing room and told me to attend. He walked out with a Messi shirt for me. It doesn’t get a lot better than that, seeing him up close, in real life. I believe he walked past me at halftime and I used to be taking a look at him, considering, That’s Messi.” (Money’s tournament ended with one other prize that will at some point prove nearly as helpful: He picked up Kylian Mbappé’s jersey after Poland was eliminated by France within the round of 16.)
Others have been a little bit more opportunistic. “I went on the pitch and consoled all of the boys, after which shook Messi’s hand,” said Cameron Devlin, an unused substitute for Australia during its defeat to Argentina within the round of 16. Seeing as he was there, Devlin thought he might as well take a likelihood.
“No person had said anything, so I just tried my luck,” he said of asking Messi to swap jerseys. “He said he’d see me inside, and that’s what happened. I definitely wanted one in all the opposite boys to have the chance first, but no one took it, so I assumed, Why not?”
Devlin, a 24-year-old midfielder with the Scottish club Hearts, said Messi would “definitely” do not know that that they had once swapped jerseys. “I used to be surprised he even took it,” he said. “It would still be on the bottom in that changing room.”
For Devlin, though, like all the players who’ve been lucky enough — or Argentine enough — to pay money for a Messi jersey, it is vitally much a prize value having. “I will need to have a whole lot of jerseys,” said Xabi Prieto, a midfielder who enjoyed a protracted and decorated profession with the Spanish team Real Sociedad.
A overwhelming majority of the jerseys in his collection, he said, are stored away. Unlike Messi, he doesn’t have dozens of them on display. “I only have a number of, within the room where I watch soccer, those that mean essentially the most to me, from the most effective players I played against,” he said. That is kind of an inventory: Prieto played from 2003 until 2018; he got here face-to-face with each the Brazilian and Portuguese versions of Ronaldo, with Zidane, with Ronaldinho.
It’s the Messi jersey that he picked up in 2015, though, that he cherishes greater than every other. “No person else had claimed it before the sport, and no one else had asked him for it after it had finished,” he said. “So I assumed I would as well. That one is my favorite. He’s, for me, the most effective of all time.”
Claiming his jersey from a World Cup final, after all, can be the last word souvenir for any of the France players fortunate enough — or savvy enough — to land it. The percentages, though, will not be of their favor. Pride of place in Messi’s own collection appears to belong to the jersey he wore in his first World Cup final, in 2014. Some things could also be so significant, so collectible, so treasured, that even Messi wants them for himself.