Lionel Messi’s shirts sell for $7.8m – but Michael Jordan still holds the record

BARRIO (The Athletic) – A collection of six shirts worn by Lionel Messi during the 2022 World Cup has become the most expensive sports memorabilia sold this year after being bought at auction for $7.8million (£6.1m).

The shirts, some still stained with dirt, have spent the last two weeks hanging in the lobby of Sotheby’s in New York, next to a backdrop of the Argentina flag. They were worn by him during each round of the tournament including the dramatic final against France which Messi’s Argentina side won on penalties.

Sotheby’s briefed that the estimated price would be “in excess of $10million”, which would have made it “the most valuable collection of sports memorabilia” ever sold at auction.

But the winning bid fell some way short of this, meaning a 1998 Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey still holds the world record.

How did the auction work?

Although the shirts were displayed in Manhattan, the auction was carried out online via the Sotheby’s website. Bidders had to register with Sotheby’s first, to deter ‘time wasters’.

The leading bid remained at $6.5million until the last minute of the two-week auction, which closed at midday Eastern Standard Time (5pm GMT) on Thursday, before it shot up in the final minute to $7.8m. The winner’s identity had not been revealed at the time of writing.

Which shirts are they?

Footballers these days often change shirts at half-time, as they get sweaty. One shirt in the collection is the one Messi wore in the first half of the World Cup final — a half in which he scored as Argentina went 2-0 up at the break before France staged a comeback.

The set also includes shirts he wore in each of the three knockout rounds and two of three group games (the matches against Saudi Arabia and Mexico, but not Poland). Argentina started the tournament slowly with a shock loss to Saudi Arabia, then an hour passed without a goal against Mexico, before Messi broke the deadlock in an eventual 2-0 win.

In the knockout stages, they made hard work of a 2-1 win against Australia in the round of 16, a game in which Messi marked his 1,000th senior game with a brilliant goal. After beating the Netherlands on penalties, following a 2-2 draw in which Messi scored, Argentina finally looked like competitors in a 3-0 semi-final defeat of Croatia.

The final against France, a 3-3 draw followed by a penalty shootout won 4-2 by Argentina, was one of the greatest games of all time. As well as lifting the World Cup as captain, Messi also won the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player having finished with seven goals.

Is it a good investment?

Time will tell if the purchase is a shrewd one or if the buyer has overpaid, but the general trend is that sports memorabilia is booming as an investment class.

Football is becoming a bigger deal far beyond its traditional heartlands of Europe and South America, with the United States in particular taking more and more of an interest in the world’s most popular sport, with Messi now playing there for MLS club Inter Miami.

“(Messi is) incredibly popular and the prices for these things just rise and rise,” says sports marketing expert Tim Crow. “Collectibles in sport are just going up and up and have been for a long time. It’s one of those sectors where prices keep going up.”

How does the price compare with other sports memorabilia?

The sports memorabilia auction record was broken last May by another Argentina No 10 shirt — the one worn by the late Diego Maradona when he scored twice to knock England out in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup. The match, in Mexico City, is known for an individually brilliant goal by Maradona as well as the infamous ‘Hand of God’ incident in which he scored his side’s other one in a 2-1 victory.

The shirt Maradona wore was owned for 35 years by Steve Hodge, the England midfielder who swapped shirts with the Argentinian at the end of that game. “I just happened to be walking down our tunnel as Maradona came walking along the Argentina tunnel,” Hodge wrote years later in his autobiography. “We looked at each other and I tugged my shirt. He nodded and so I did (get the shirt) — it was pure chance.”

Hodge says he slipped the shirt into his bag, aware of the anger towards Maradona in the England dressing room for the handball incident, and that it stayed in his attic until 2002 when he loaned it to the UK’s National Football Museum. Last year it was sold, also at Sotheby’s, for £7.1million to a mystery buyer who has still not been identified.

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