With his brilliance, flair, and magic touch on the pitch, who doesn’t love Lionel Messi?
Soccer stars are big everywhere, but in Asia, they can grow larger than life, and it appears the Argentinian mega-star has done just that in North Korea.
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) executive committee member Han Un-Gyong has called on Messi to come visit an academy in the country’s capital of Pyongyang, where children at the Pyongyang International Football School are massive fans.
“I want to invite him, because our children love him,” Han said during an confederation presentation in the Philippians. “When I go to the Pyongyang international school, I ask them who do you think is the best player. They say: “Ah, we love Messi!” Even the girls. They read books about Messi and watch his games through the Internet.”
Asia has become a hotbed for European soccer marketing recently, especially in the Premier League. Teams such as Swansea City have furnished massive kit sponsorship deals with Asian companies, while clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, and Sunderland have gone over to participate in preseason tournaments like the Premier League Asia Trophy. Even wealthy Asian businessmen such as Vincent Tan have invested in European soccer, with the Malaysian Tan purchasing Cardiff City as well as a portion of the new MLS startup club in Los Angeles.
“They can see all the games, China, Europe and everything at our Pyongyang International School,” Han said. “They can watch any football. They love football, that’s why they know all the players’ names and everything.”
Messi recently visited Hong Kong as Argentina played a friendly there, which his country won 7-0, and of course the Little Flea netted a brace. The striker even signed a pitch invader’s shirt during the waning moments of the match.
“Lots of students love Messi, because Messi’s a very honest man,” said Han. “He loves children.”
The Academy opened just this year and is the product of an initiative by leader Kim Jong-Un to produce a higher level of talent in the country, hosting 200 boys and girls aged 9 to 11. Kim is a sports fanatic, recently hosting former NBA player Dennis Rodman to tour the country with him.