Lionel Messi on paying it forward

June 10, 2024 | By Vicki Hyman

Argentine soccer great Lionel Messi, defending his country’s title later this month during the CONMEBOL Copa América tournament, is starring in a new Mastercard video, “Giving Back,” inspired by a real-life experience he had with a fan.

In the video, the longtime Mastercard ambassador tries to use his card at a restaurant and an ice cream truck but is turned down by the owners, who want to pay him back for all he’s given to football fans over the years. His luck is no better with a chatbot. Messi spoke exclusively to the Mastercard Newsroom about the tournament, connecting with fans and inspiring new ones, what he loves about his adopted home of Miami and more.

Winning the Copa América in 2021 was a significant achievement for you and Argentina. How did it feel to finally lift that trophy for your home country?

Messi: Winning the Copa América was an incredible moment for me and for all of Argentina. It was a dream come true. After so many years of coming close, holding that trophy was a mix of happiness, pride and, I must admit, relief. We had faced many challenges and disappointments in the past, but we never gave up. The support from our fans was unbelievable.

You’ve been working with Mastercard for years, and you’ve worked on several campaigns. How does this ad resonate with you on a personal level?

Messi: This ad highlights the love fans and small businesses have shown me over the years, and how much I want to pay them back with gratitude.

And, funny enough, this ad happened to be me in real life. I vividly remember a heartwarming time in Argentina, my home country, where a restaurant owner refused to accept my payment for dinner, as a gesture of gratitude for my contributions to the sport. Yet it was me who was truly appreciative for his support, and the support of all my fans, over the years. I’m deeply touched by their love and generosity, and when Mastercard presented the idea, I immediately jumped on board.

Mastercard and I share a belief in the importance of bringing people closer to their passions and connecting them to what brings them joy, because that’s priceless. Just like in this campaign, we are always seeking ways to give back the support we receive.

You’re known for giving back both on and off the field. What does giving back mean to you?

Messi: I think giving back is about more than just big gestures. It’s about being there for others in any way you can, whether it’s lending a hand to someone in need, saying thank you to those who support you or encouraging others to pursue their dreams. It’s about spreading positivity and making a difference in people’s lives, no matter how small the action may seem at the time. Taken together, we’re creating a more caring and supportive world.

What steps can we take to continue inspiring generations to embrace their love for football?

Messi: Throughout my career I’ve met so many young footballers who hold a deep passion for the sport. We need to help keep their fire alive! Youth programs and activities like player mascot are so important to further the sport and keep young players inspired to play. We need to keep investing in these areas. I know I wouldn’t be here today without the support from the clubs I was part of.

Whether it’s filling stadiums, giving a football to a boy or girl who wants to learn or sponsoring major events like Mastercard does for Copa América, every move counts.

A national team brings together players who often compete fiercely against one another. How do you build a winning culture?

Messi: Whether it’s a club team or a national team, building a winning culture comes down to respect. We all bring something unique to the field, and the dynamic interaction of those elements creates the win. We need to acknowledge and respect the fact that none of us can do it alone.

Miami, your new home away from home, is hosting Copa América. Do you have any recommendations for fans coming to the city? Any must-see things to do?

Messi: Miami is a fabulous place to live and to visit. The energy, the welcoming spirit — it’s incredible, and there’s going to be something for every fan. You have the beach, nightlife, the art district, the food and entertainment on offer — concerts, live music, sporting events, etc.

Vicki Hyman, director, communications, Mastercard