Lionel Messi and his tourism deal with Saudi Arabia

Lionel Messi.

© Shutterstock

Lionel Messi.

© Shutterstock Lionel Messi and his tourism deal with Saudi Arabia After Argentina’s on-field embarrassment, the superstar's deal with Saudi Arabia takes centre stage.

The match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia produced one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history: the team built around superstar Lionel Messi, considered one of the favourites to lift the trophy, lost their opening match of Group C at the Lusail Stadium against Saudi Arabia. Argentina led through Messi’s penalty in the first half, but the Saudis turned the game around after the break to win 2-1.

Now an off-field deal signed by Messi has moved the spotlight from the team to their star man, the PSG playmaker infamously paying a visit to Saudi Arabia in May. During his stay in the oil-rich kingdom, he was treated like a visiting monarch, and not only because of his skills as a player: Messi is a paid partner of Visit Saudi, a subsidiary of the country’s tourism authority, and is effectively an ambassador promoting the country, with the Visit Saudi website even having its own specific Messi page. Human rights’ organisations have called on the Argentine to renounce this role, but Messi has undoubtedly negotiated a very lucrative deal, with reports putting the figure at around €29million per year; the 35-year-old also negotiated a €19million deal with Socios, a bitcoin platform for football fans, earlier this year.

Messi is also expected to play a role in Saudi Arabia’s bid – in co-operation with Egypt and Greece – to host the 2030 World Cup, in opposition to a joint South American bid involving his home country Argentina. While the decision on the 2030 tournament is not expected until 2024, there will undoubtedly be some lobbying by those countries hoping to host the competition, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino seen sitting next to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the World Cup opening game between hosts Qatar and Ecuador.