Barcelona star Lionel Messi is set to have a theme park opened in his honour, with the venue currently scheduled to open in 2020 in the Chinese city of Nanjing.
The project, headed up by Mediapro Exhibitions in association with LMM (Leo Messi Management) and bankrolled by Phoenix U-Art, was originally planned as a museum, but now promises to be a far more engaging experience for park goers.
Speaking on Thursday in Barcelona the head of Mediapro Exhibitions, David Xirau, provided a full rundown of what to expect from the new enterprise.
“It will be a tribute to football, not a space for self promotion,” Xirau said.
“In China, football is growing at an exponential rate, encouraged by the authorities. Nanjing is a football capital here. It is a China-scale project, very big. It is around 80,000 square metres, most of which will be inside for weather reasons.
“It will be connected with Shanghai and we expect 4-5 million visitors a year, the vast majority of which will be Chinese tourists. It is expected to be working in 2020. The project will cost €170m as well as urban investments.”
It may appear to some that the project is somewhat jumping the gun due to Messi still being an active professional, but Xirau moved to explain why that wouldn't be an issue – and revealed additional plans to build similar parks elsewhere in the future.
“Michael Jordan, who is already retired, is the most valuable sporting brand in China. That is a very important point. This is a tribute to football with Leo's trademark. With time we will have to update the space.
“Football does not begin and end with Leo, luckily. In fact, neither Pele, nor Cruyff nor Maradona lost their influence when they retired from football. Leo also has the advantage of his image.
“Our partner has exclusive right to do this project in China. We are working towards creating other Messi Experiences in other places, we are hoping for updates on that soon.
“The idea is for visitors to spend the whole day here. The project started as a museum but, as time went on, after seeing our partner and the Nanjing authorities' ambition, we saw that it needed to be bigger.
“I don't have the final price (of the entrance fee). It will be comparable to the price of Disney Shanghai. It is above 40 dollars, but don't take my word for it just yet.”
Messi himself, meanwhile, revealed his own ambitions for the project, and hopes that the park can help to encourage more people to get into football at a younger age.
"I hope to provide [the visitors with an] experience they've never had before and to inspire them to pick up the sport early on.
"Hopefully, they will feel that I am around when visiting the park."