Everyone wants a Lionel Messi jersey. MLS players are no different.
With Messi expressing his intention to join Inter Miami CF this summer, fans could soon sport their own version in the Herons’ pink and black colorway. While the replica is stylish, a shirt actually worn by Messi will be in-demand and much harder for fans to get their hands on.
Columbus Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room is among a small group that has one in his collection, swapping shirts with Messi in late March after Room’s Curacao team played Messi’s Argentina in one of La Albiceleste’s first matches since winning the 2022 World Cup.
And, yes, it was a swap, Room says, even if he wasn’t sure Messi would even want his jersey – the Crew 'keeper isn’t as well-known of a figure internationally. Yet, Room says he and Messi quickly developed a professional relationship on the field in the friendly.
“During the game every time he shot and I saved the ball, we had a little bit of a connection,” Room said this week. “We were joking around in the game a little bit. At halftime, we were walking into the tunnel, and I saw Messi walking next to me. I was talking with him casually and asked him, ‘Can I get your jersey after the game?’”
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner agreed, but Room expected Messi to forget and to swap with another Curacao player since everyone wanted his No. 10 kit. Instead, Messi remembered he gave his word, finding the goalkeeper and exchanging with him after Argentina’s 7-0 triumph.
Room doesn’t make a habit out of trading jerseys, noting he often will swap with the opposing goalkeeper but doesn’t have a huge collection. Messi is somewhat similar. While he often is asked after a game, he’s said in interviews that he typically will not initiate an ask and prefers to swap with fellow Argentines.
This game was different, though. Messi scored his 100th goal in an Argentina shirt against Room and finished the night with three goals in the rout.
“Obviously Messi scored a hat trick, but I had [nine] saves, four or five on Messi. Then, the ratio doesn’t look too bad.” Room said. “It was really special to play in that game. It's something that you can look back at and tell your kids and family about. I also have the jersey to back it up if people don’t believe me!”
There's also a fair amount of video footage, plus 42,000 people who packed the Estadio Único Madre de Ciudades in Santiago del Estero to see the game. But it's good to have the physical souvenir as well.
So, where is the jersey now?
“I have it framed in my game room with the pictures. I framed it straight away when I got back,” Room said. “It’s got a nice spot on the wall.”
It could have company sooner than later. Room isn't sure if Messi would recognize him in a potential future Miami vs. Columbus matchup – but if he does he’d happily make another exchange, getting one of the most sought-after pieces of sports merchandise in the world in return.