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Signing Lionel Messi could be tipping point in NYCFC Stadium saga

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The arrival of a living legend could be the bargaining chip City needs to finally get a home of their own

New York City Aerials Photo by C. Taylor Crothers/Getty Images

Back in February, hopes were high for New York City FC finally getting plans for a home stadium of their own. The New York Times reported that a deal for NYCFC to build a stadium in the South Bronx was “close” and that the miserable and uncertain years of ground-sharing with the New York Yankees would soon be behind them.

Then, COVID-19 (coronavirus) happened. And after that, fans of City were again met with the radio silence we had previously become accustomed to since the club’s inception. It wasn’t until September when we would eventually hear that the club reportedly planned to pitch a stadium plan in the winter.

Recently, there’s been a huge development. And it might be the biggest story not only for NYCFC, but in MLS history as well.

In August, the legendary Lionel Messi wanted out of Barcelona, something few thought would ever happen after the Argentinian’s 16 years in Catalonia. His reported destination: the Premier League’s Manchester City for three seasons, then to none other than New York City.

Unfortunately, the deal would eventually fall through and Messi revealed that he would honor the remainder of his contract with Barca until its expiration in 2021.

Despite the transfer deal not panning out, Manchester City has reportedly not given up on signing Messi on a free transfer next summer. And reportedly, the Cityzens are still using a future tenure at NYCFC to lure in the Barcelona stalwart.

With this in mind, I want you to think about something.

If you want a New York community to buy into giving you a piece of land in a space where real estate — especially for construction purposes — is at a premium, you have to be able to prove that it will benefit said community. NYCFC has sweetened the pot to a degree on that front, with their most recent Bronx proposal also including a school, hotel, retail stores, and the ever-so-important inclusion of affordable housing in addition to a 25,000-seat stadium. And to make things even easier, City Football Group and the Yankees allegedly will be privately funding the $1 billion project.

Those are all good things. But how do you prove that it will be viable once it’s finished? After all, the rival New York Red Bulls built an admittedly beautiful stadium across the Hudson in Harrison, New Jersey. And despite only having a seat count of 25,000, it is seldom filled to capacity.

If recent reports are to be believed, the answer is simple — bring in a superstar. And not just any superstar, the superstar — Lionel Messi himself.

With his potential arrival being at least a few years away, the powers that be at NYCFC have plenty of time to explain how much Messi’s trip to the Bronx could mean to the team and the community surrounding it.

Anywhere Messi goes, attention follows. And I’m not talking the kind of fascination that came with Andrea Pirlo’s bittersweet arrival. I’m talking this kind of attention.

Messi is a rockstar. As of 2020, the Argentinian winger makes over $100 million a year according to Forbes, making him the fifth highest paid celebrity and the third most paid athlete behind only tennis’ Roger Federer and longtime football rival Cristiano Ronaldo. He is, in no uncertain terms, a god amongst men in the world of celebrity.

And he could be heading to New York in the near future.

If you’re responsible for landing NYCFC a stadium in New York City proper, the pitch practically makes itself.

A player like Messi provides a serious boost to any team he is a part of. Not only because of his exceptional contributions on the pitch, but off of it as well. When you’re arguably not only the best player in the world, but in the history of the game, people come in droves to see you — just to catch a glimpse of the one they call the GOAT.

If Messi is New York bound, any stadium that NYCFC plays in will not have an empty seat in the house. All local businesses will benefit from the influx of people travelling from abroad to see the iconic No. 10 in action. New York, already among the world’s most visited tourist spots, will become one of the world’s biggest international sports hubs over night. Young wonderkids and experienced veteran players alike will be chomping at the bit to play alongside the greatest to ever do it. The list of benefits goes on.

If local support and perception are at all in doubt, the arrival of a player like Messi seals the deal and then some. Because this isn’t just an opportunity for the club to grab a great player to help them pursue championships. This is also about bringing money to the community and local business owners. Because if you build it, they will come. And they won’t just be coming to the Etihad Stadium in the Bronx. They’ll be filling up the Dugout Sports Bar down the block. They’ll be buying Messi kits from the vendors on the street. They will be flooding New York’s tourist attractions. All in addition to just wanting to see the diminutive Argentinian legend in the flesh.

To whoever is in charge here, make the most of this. Please.