Lionel Messi's jarring Saudi deal puts him at risk of tarnishing world-class reputation

Lionel Messi is unlikely to win another Ballon d’Or but that will probably not matter to him.

It looks like it is only the Or he is interested in now. The gold. And there is plenty of it, according to the Forbes sporting rich list, which claims Messi – in the year ending May 1 2022 – earned £107million.

That is enough for him to be the highest-paid athlete in the world, ahead of the NBA’s LeBron James. Of course, his huge salary at Paris St Germain helps – conservative estimates suggest it is not far south of a million euros a week.

But Messi’s wage now appears to be merely topping up his commercial income. And right now, there does not seem to be much Messi is not prepared to sell.

Holidays to a country which has a plaza known as Chop Chop Square because it is where they behead people? Tick. Cryptocurrencies that are notoriously volatile and have become highly controversial? Tick. Beer? Crisps? Video Games? Fizzy drinks? Tick, tick, tick, tick.

This is becoming the year of Messi the marketer rather than Messi the magician. Truly great sportsmen and women using their fame and profile for commercial gain is absolutely nothing new.

Why wouldn’t they? If, for example, a luxury watch company is prepared to pay you fortunes to put one of their £200,000-a-pop timepieces on your wrist, why would you say no?

Messi didn’t. That is fine but other commercial liaisons should jar. The Saudi connection, for example. Messi has been rightly lauded for his involvement with UNICEF and for the work of his charitable foundation.

How does that tally with his paid-for support for a state that still executes people and is routinely accused of shocking violations of human rights? And what Messi gives that state is, essentially, access to his social media reach – arguably the greatest footballer of all time has 327million followers on Instagram alone.

Is Lionel Messi the greatest footballer of all time? Have your say in the comments…

Lionel Messi is at risk of becoming a marketer over a magician


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He is now a Saudi Arabian poster boy. And he is a poster boy for a cryptocurrency company. No human rights issues there but only myriad tales of people who have been tempted into investing but lost hard-earned money.

Their fault, of course. No-one has frog-marched you to your bank account. But in these times, is it really a good look to have mega-rich footballers – and clubs, by the way – telling hard-up fans it is good to put whatever spare money they have into high-risk ventures?

It seems that Chelsea are signing a £20million sponsorship deal with one of these cryptocurrency firms. Even some of football’s governing bodies are considering doing the same, apparently.

Who says the romance and traditions of football are not dead? To a great extent, of course, Messi is simply doing what they all do. Cristiano Ronaldo is only two places behind him on the rich list, thanks to his array of commercial deals.

But when I think of Messi, I always want to think of the slaloming brilliance and the beautiful goals – not the cyber-selling and the sportswashing. That would be sad.

Eddie Howe has completed a remarkable turnaround at Newcastle after receiving heavy financial backing


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On many official Newcastle United media outlets – and some unofficial ones – a big deal was made of them being made mathematically safe in the Premier League by Leeds United’s latest defeat. Apparently, they are the first club in Premier League history to go without a win in the first 14 games of a season and not be relegated.

As for the century of top flight football that preceded the Premier League, you would need to check, if you can be bothered. Because one thing that does not need checking is that no Premier League club without a win in its 14 games of a season has then been able to go out and spend £90million in a January transfer window.

Then again, no club has been so heavily funded by Saudi Arabian cash. It is not, though, owned by that state, don’t forget. And any similarity between the jersey of the Saudi Arabian national team and a new Newcastle second strip for next season will be a pure coincidence, no doubt.

Jose Mourinho aimed a not-so-subtle dig at former club Manchester United


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“We won three titles at Manchester United … unfortunately, the last three titles of the club.” Jose Mourinho. Still can’t make up my mind what is the best part of this quote.

The fact that he is still counting the Community Shield as a title? Or the spectacularly insincere ‘unfortunately’ bit? As if he is not absolutely delighted they have won nothing since he left five years ago. He has a point, though.

Joey Barton has done it and, now, with some distinction, Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel has done it. Now, let’s get Jurgen Klopp on to Question Time.

The only problem with that would be half the country would probably want him to run for Prime Minister after the show.

There was a war of words between Antonio Conte and Mikel Arteta after the North London derby


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Being told to stop complaining by Antonio Conte must be a bit like being told to watch your language by Gordon Ramsay. What was particularly brilliant about Conte’s extended dig at Mikel Arteta was the way he said he himself could have complained about Fabinho’s challenge at Anfield, about the original postponement of the North London derby and about today’s kick-off time against Burnley … but hasn’t.

Only he just has, of course. It’s an old trick. There is no more prolific moaner than Conte. Watch him on the touchline, begging referees to produce yellow cards.

But mostly, he moans about resources at his disposal. Well, at Spurs, he has decent playing resources and Daniel Levy will, hopefully, back him to recruit more. So if he does decide to stay at Tottenham, no more complaining at the hand he has picked up. After a long settling-in period, Conte and Spurs look a decent fit.

Robert Lewandowski is linked with a summer switch to Barcelona


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It seems Robert Lewandowski fancies a new challenge after eight seasons with Bayern Munich. Barcelona would be his preferred destination, which serves as a reminder the Catalan club still has a special allure.

But, hopefully, he might end up in the Premier League… because perhaps then, we might not continue to under-appreciate this brilliance.

Tweet of the week: @Cristiano “My 2nd Premier League Player of the Month Award, the 6th in my career. I’m as happy to win today as I was in my early days, the hunger for victory and achievements never fades away. Thanks for everyone that made this possible.”

You can look at this two ways. To win. Two Player of the Month awards in a miserable Manchester United season shows how phenomenal Ronaldo is – or, the judging panel is as starstruck as the rest of us.

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