It’s Messi ma­nia as China builds a Lionel-theme park

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

CHI­NESE fans will be able to cel­e­brate the achieve­ments of Barcelona soc­cer great Lionel Messi at a new theme park to be built in Bei­jing.

The Messi Ex­pe­ri­ence Park, which is be­ing launched by the five times world player of the year in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Chi­nese broad­caster Phoenix Group and Span­ish me­dia com­pany Me­di­apro, is set to open in 2019 in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal.

The theme park will have 20 in­door and out­door attractions in a 42 000 square me­tre space which will “im­merse visi­tors in Messi’s uni­verse,” a state- ment from the player’s Leo Messi Man­age­ment group said

Messi, who earned the Euro­pean Golden Shoe last sea­son by fin­ish­ing top scorer in Europe’s top five leagues, at­tended a launch event in Bei­jing this week.

“I hope to pro­vide them with an ex­pe­ri­ence they have never had be­fore and en­cour­age peo­ple to play foot­ball from an early age,” Messi told re­porters.

David Xi­rau, di­rec­tor of Me­di­apro Ex­hi­bi­tions said the theme park will “use the most ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy” to com­bine attractions with spa­ces to play the world’s most pop­u­lar sport.

Com­pa­nies from China have in­vested heav­ily in for­eign clubs in re­cent years as Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping has called for the coun­try to de­velop a world-class soc­cer in­dus­try.

Chi­nese am­bi­tions for soc­cer have also ex­tended to spic­ing up the do­mes­tic league with a clutch of high-pro­file sign­ings.

Messi is Barcelona’s high­est paid player, earn­ing an es­ti­mated € 40 mil­lion (R580 mil­lion) per year, which is set to in­crease this sum­mer as he is ex­pected to sign a bumper new long-term con­tract with Barca, where his cur­rent deal runs un­til 2018.

Messi’s im­age rights have come un­der the spot­light since he was charged with avoid­ing € 4.1 mil­lion of tax on his com­mer­cial earn­ings be­tween 2009 and 2011.

He was found guilty of tax fraud along with his fa­ther Jorge last year, and handed a prison sen­tence of 21 months and a fine of € 2 mil­lion.

His ap­peal was re­jected by the Span­ish Supreme Court last month although he is un­likely to go to prison. – Reuters

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