Next to Try and Sell Soccer in America: Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi
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Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is the best soccer player in the world but he's virtually unknown in the United States.

Same drill as usual, right? Pele, David Beckham and now Lionel Messi have all been mega stars internationally and impressed America to mostly disappointing degrees.

Soccer will never make it here, so why try is a common refrain in the sports world. However, Adidas believes Messi is such a transcendent star, it would be silly NOT to try.

"Soccer in the U.S. has lovers, and it has haters," said Ernesto Bruce, director of soccer for Adidas America.

According to Adidas, Messi can convert some of the haters. He's that magical.

That's why the company just launched a global retail brand of shoes and apparel that are all about Lionel Messi.

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Source: Adidas

"Our goal with the Messi line is to make him globally recognized as one of the best ever—and that includes the U.S.," Bruce said.

Why is this a big deal?

"This is only the second time we've ever done a global line like this," Bruce said. "David Beckham was the first."

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So, if you're not a global sports fan and want a little perspective on the 5-foot-7 Argentinian, here it is: Messi basically scores in soccer the way Wayne Gretzky scored in hockey during his prime.

This season, he has 42 goals in 28 games playing in Spain's top league. This is soccer. The game where a goal a game is like putting up 40 a night in the NBA. Last year, Messi score 77 goals in 70 games.

For his achievements, Messi has won the world player of the year award four years in a row. He's widely considered the most talented player in the world—perhaps, ever—and he's only 25 years old.

You get the picture.

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But the problem in America isn't just that soccer is fifth fiddle. It's also that Messi doesn't possess a star's persona.

Americans like winners ... winners who are brash, noticeable and charming. Messi is quiet, humble and unassuming.

"We struggle with that at times because we want to use him in other disciplines," Bruce said. "But what's great about it is that he's authentic."

Adidas wouldn't invest in this unless there was a strategy, which is this: Get the product out in 2013 and wait—hope?—that 2014 changes everything.

"We are launching now because we think the 2014 World Cup will be historic for Messi," Bruce said. "More than twice the people will watch the World Cup Final than the NBA final.

"We think 2014 will be his coming out party."

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Part of that coming out party is coming to the United States in the summer of 2013. That will be another test to see if Messi will ever be recognized walking down the street.

He doesn't want to be, but both he and Adidas knows, they need him to be.

Or it'll be the same old cliche ... soccer will never make it in America.

—By CNBC's Brian Shactman; Follow him on Twitter: @bshactman