Ann Arbor — FC Barcelona fans filled Michigan Stadium Saturday for the LaLiga-Serie A Cup matchup with SSC Napoli.
Of the multitude wearing the maroon, blue and red jerseys of their Catalonian heroes, about nine in 10 had the name “Messi” and the No. 10 affixed to the back.
They were disappointed to hear the Argentinian five-time winner of the Ballon d’Or (Best Player in the World) would not be playing in the exhibition series due to a calf injury. Yet the legions of Barca fans were not going to let that detract from an afternoon of international soccer bliss under the sunshine in The Big House.
Ken Birrell of Canton jumped at the chance to buy tickets, which turned out to be in the second row in Section 144. He was willing to pay $180 for he and son, Isaac, who plays youth soccer for DCFC West.
“We’d never get to see a match with Barcelona unless we fly to Spain,” Birrell said in the concourse of Michigan Stadium. “That is probably the reason we were willing to spend for the top ticket.
“We were excited to see (Luis) Suarez, (Antoine) Griezmann, (Phillippe) Coutinho.”
Isaac, cloaked in a Barcelona Lionel Messi jersey, was still somewhat bummed the game’s marquee player wasn’t present.
Fans pose with the Copa del Rey, La Liga and Champions League trophies, all won by FC Barcelona outside of Michigan Stadium on Saturday before the match against SSC Napoli. Louis Aguilar, The Detroit News
“I like how he plays. I like how he uses his skills. He like that he's left-foot (shooter) like me,” the boy said. “I was very disappointed (that he wasn't playing).”
Another Messi-jersey wearing fan took the star’s absence in stride. Avery Ziegler, 16, of Kalamazoo waited in line outside the M Den an hour before kickoff.
“I was looking forward to that, but it’s still pretty nice to see Barcelona,” said Ziegler, who plays center midfield for the Kalamazoo Kingdom.
“Ever since I started watching soccer, that is first team I watched and I’ve continued to watch them. It's just their style of play and their overall quality of their team and their tradition.”
International showcases at Michigan Stadium have centered around who’s not played rather than the teams involved. In July 2016, Real Madrid defeated Chelsea 3-2 before 105,826 spectators at Michigan Stadium but Portuguese superstar Ronaldo didn’t accompany the team.
Last year, Liverpool defeated Manchester United 4-1 in front of 101,254 raucous fans with both English Premiership sides missing key players due to the recently completed World Cup. Then United boss Jose Mourinho suggested fans deserved better.
“We were going to come no matter what, but it's a bummer,” said Paul Boehms of Troy, who was accompanied by sons Noah and Andrew. “It's kind of expected. I really didn't expect anything different. It's an exhibition game. It's right before the season.
“These kids will know a lot of the players.”