Messi mania grips El Salvador ahead of Inter Miami friendly

San Salvador, Jan 19 (EFE).- A few hours before Argentine sensation Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami played El Salvador in a friendly on Friday, those selling replicas of his number 10 shirt were expecting big sales.

In the streets of the capital of El Salvador, the traditional pink jersey of the American team has replaced Real Madrid and Barcelona, who had previously monopolized the preferences of local supporters.

For those wishing to flaunt their football idol’s colors on their arms, the unofficial jerseys sold by street vendors and informal merchants are an affordable option, with prices ranging from $5 to $18.

A Salvadoran would have to pay half of their minimum salary of $356 for an official Inter Miami shirt.

Luis Arias, who runs a stall on the street in front of the Cuscatlán Stadium, where the Salvadoran team will face Inter Miami, said he intended to make enough money from jersey sales to help pay for the start of the school year in 2024.

“There comes a time like this when we can make a little extra income for our home or for our children,” he told EFE, adding that the money earned will help him pay for his children’s school supplies.

Surrounded by dozens of Inter Miami shirts of different sizes and designs with Messi’s number 10, he was expecting a large influx of fans and buyers on the match day.

He lamented that in the days before the game the movement of customers had been a little slow but hoped that the situation would improve as the match day drew closer.

Carlos Alas, owner of a replica shirt shop in the historic center of San Salvador, told EFE that since the announcement of the arrival of Messi’s team, “there has been great movement.”

“We have enjoyed the fact that he is coming because the shirts have had a strong influx of sales,” he said.

Alas explained that after Argentina won the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, Messi’s reputation in the informal or semi-formal sector had caused shirt sales to soar.

A significant portion of the workforce is employed in the informal sector in El Salvador, where just 189,553 of the country’s approximately six million inhabitants held regular employment with benefits as of March 2023, according to official statistics.

Alas attributed this mania for purchasing shirts to the Salvadorans’ desire to be part of a historic local football event, such as the visit of Pele’s Santos in 1966.

By the time Pele visited the country, he had two World Cups under his belt, and his team had also won international tournaments but lost to Alianza, a team from the capital.

“Customers buy because this is going to remain as a story that the man (Messi) has come here,” added the merchant of the ‘Charly Sports’ store.

But the sale of shirts of Messi, called the ‘GOAT’ (Greatest of All Time) and ‘D10S’, are not only limited to the replica of his pink Inter Miami number.

Salvadoran sellers have among their offers the fusion of Inter Miami’s clothing with that of Selecta or shirts that include the photograph of Messi running or lifting the Ballon d’Or.

Messi’s popularity has also displaced shirts sold with the photo of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele.

Men and women, young people, adults, and the elderly sell the t-shirts, some even in the face of persecution by the Corps of Metropolitan Agents (CAM), who confiscate the products offered in some places.

“They hardly let us sell them but we still invite people to come. Here we are waiting for you with all kinds of sizes,” a saleswoman who only wanted to identify herself as Rosy told EFE.

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