Where is Messi?
This was the most asked question by the fans that attended Barcelona’s final game of the International Champions Cup.
The absence of FC Barcelona’s biggest stars, mainly Argentinian standout Lionel Messi, made huge news in the last game played by the Spanish team in the International Champions Cup. The tournament, which is quickly losing its prestige, saw Barça finished last amongst the 18 participating squads.
None of the Barcelona players who took part in the World Cup held in Russia this summer traveled to the United States. Fans who spent up to $150 for a ticket could not see Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets or Messi!
The game in which Barça collected a 4-2 loss against Roma recorded an attendance below 55,000 spectators in the AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, which had prepared to host up to 80,000 people. The situation was tough on the services side of the stadium as food concessions were ready for many more people than those that showed up for the contest.
The look of the stands was also sad. Besides more than 25,000 empty seats, 90 percent of the fans that came to support Barça were wearing Messi’s number 10 jersey… Supporters definitely had a reason to feel disappointed, as expressed by Portuguese head coach José Mourinho, whose team, England’s Manchester United, also participated in the tournament.
“I would not spend a single dollar for a game like this,” said Mourinho after United’s contest against Liverpool. “The North American fans deserve respect”.
It is clear that these types of tournaments, despite being held for more than a decade, are quickly becoming old fashioned. U.S. fans and those who travel from other countries like Mexico to watch these games do not get enough out of seeing historical European clubs perform: Real Madrid, Tottenham or almighty Barcelona. They want more. They want the real deal. They want to vibrate with planet football’s top stars in meaningful contests.
If event organizers want to keep bringing world class clubs each year, they need to start following the example set by the NFL in England and Mexico, bringing their regular season games outside the United States, a strategy which has also been put into place by leagues like Major League Baseball and the NHL. If American fans can’t watch true live games of La Liga, Premier League or Bundesliga, they will learn from this year’s International Champions Cup disappointment and walk away from soccer exhibition games entirely.