- All-time great in Asia
- Fans flocked to see him
- Fake offers advertised
WHAT HAPPENED? The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is in Beijing ahead of Argentina’s friendly date with Australia on June 15. His presence in China has captured the imagination of an adoring Asian fan base, but there has also been plenty of unwelcome attention. One advertisement doing the round promises an evening in Messi’s company for 300,000 yuan (£33k/$42k), with the Beijing public security bureau jokingly responding to those claims on Weibo by saying: “If you can be scammed of 300,000 yuan, we'll raise a glass to you.” Other offers include a stadium pass for 5,000 yuan (£558/$701) and a VIP package that includes front-row seats, a signed jersey and a photo with Messi for 8,000 yuan (£893/$1,122). Anybody feeling a little more flush is being offered the chance to see Messi talk up their company on a shopping livestream for 50 million yuan (£5.5m/$7m).
THE BIGGER PICTURE: Tickets for Argentina’s clash with Australia – a side they overcame at the last-16 stage en route to savouring global glory at the 2022 World Cup – are selling out fast. They were initially priced at between 580 and 4,800 yuan, but are being touted on resale platforms for up to 18,000 yuan (£2,009/$2,525).
AND WHAT'S MORE: Chinese fans are desperate to catch a glimpse of Messi in action – as he prepares to open a new challenge in his club career with MLS side Inter Miami – with those waiting outside the Albiceleste’s hotel posting on Weibo: “My heart almost popped out every time I saw a bus arriving. I am so excited to be breathing the same air as him. I hope he can feel the hospitality of Chinese fans.”
IN THREE PHOTOS:@Argentina
WHAT NEXT? Messi almost didn’t make it to his Beijing base as local media reports that he was held at the city’s airport for several hours after bringing only his Spanish passport with him – rather than his Argentine one – leading to customs officers having to issue him with an expedited visa.