MADRID — Diego Maradona’s Argentina shirt from the 1986 World Cup final; Alfredo Di Stefano’s shirt from Real Madrid‘s 7-3 European Cup win over Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960; the Santos shirts worn by Pele as he lifted two Copa Libertadores in 1962 and 1963; Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas’ shirt from the 2010 World Cup final, the biggest game in the country’s history.
But where are they now? Were they kept by the players themselves? Handed down to their families? Was an opponent lucky enough to swap shirts at the full-time whistle? Were they given away? Auctioned off for charity?
The answer is more straightforward than you might think.
Those superstars shirts are now among 600 match-worn jerseys — from a collection of over 5,000 items — which are on display in Madrid; the result of an obsessive, 30-year quest by the Argentine businessman Marcelo Ordas.
ESPN is invited to take a look around the seven-storey, 45,000 square foot building, just a few minutes’ walk from Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square, the day before “Legends: The Home of Football” is due to open to the public on June 1.
On this late May morning, the final touches are still being put in place. Dozens of contractors and staff rush to be ready for the grand opening. From the ground floor gift shop — which sells souvenir t-shirts featuring iconic artwork from previous World Cup tournaments — to the rooftop terrace, home to the latest branch of LaLiga‘s themed TwentyNine’s sports bar, there’s activity everywhere.
Ordas takes ESPN on a guided tour, following the two-hour route which visitors will take around the museum. As we go, he picks up on last-minute issues which need to be addressed. A giant TV screen isn’t quite imposing enough and must be moved. A connecting door is open when it should be kept closed at all times. The music accompanying one exhibit doesn’t kick in immediately.
This attention to detail is reflective of the way these shirts are treated, with a respect bordering on reverence. These aren’t just football shirts, they are precious objects of huge cultural value. The lighting is dim, the temperature and humidity controlled, the shirts displayed in sleek, glass cases. It’s the same way that an archeologist’s centuries-old discovery might be displayed, or an ancient manuscript too fragile to touch.
But rather than a fossil or a scroll, we’re looking at Ronaldo Nazario’s Barcelona shirt from 1996-97. Which isn’t really all that different, when you think about it.
What is now a state-of-the-art facility, featuring virtual reality games and a 4D cinema where visitors are swept through a history of the World Cup, began with just one shirt.
“It was at the 1990 World Cup [in Italy], after the match between Argentina and Brazil in the round-of-16 [which Argentina won 1-0 in Turin],” Ordas tells ESPN. “That day Claudio Caniggia, the scorer of the winning goal, gave me his shirt. I realised that I was holding a part of world football heritage in my hands.
“It seemed crazy to me, with all the treasures that are preserved, that artefacts from humanity’s biggest passion hadn’t been collected. We didn’t even know where each of these relics were. From there we went out to every city, every country, every continent, explaining that we had to save the history of football.
“At first we had to convince each football legend, explaining why we had to safeguard [these shirts]. Over time, it has become more professional. Whenever there’s a Champions League semifinal, we contact the four clubs who will take part.
“Every year there’s another Champions League winner, another Libertadores winner. We have to stay alert, always with this message: that someone — in this case Legends — has to save, preserve, exhibit and share the history of football.”
Madrid’s Legends museum is intended to be the first of five such attractions to open around Europe over the next decade, allowing Ordas to showcase all 5,000 items in his collection as part of an expansion plan backed by LaLiga and UEFA. Some shirts are bought, while others are gifted or loaned.
Experts have valued the collection at €198 million, Ordas says, but he doesn’t accept that figure as representing its true value.
“People ask me how much this is worth financially, and I always say it’s priceless,” he tells ESPN. “We’ve got the shirt that [Italy forward] Giuseppe Meazza wore at the 1934 World Cup. The players were given one shirt each [to wear for the duration of the tournament]. There’s only one. And we have it here at Legends. What value does that have? It’s incalculable.
“We’ve got Bobby Charlton’s shirt, a world champion with England [in 1966], the only trophy that England has. We’ve got the shirt which [West Germany midfielder] Lothar Mattheus gave us, which he swapped with Maradona in the  final. What price does that have?
“Yes there’s an important investment in this building, with seven floors, an immersive experience, interactivity, with technology… but Legends is safeguarding the history of world football and that’s priceless.”
A visit — with tickets which cost €24 for adults and €19 for children — begins with a film telling the story of the history of football, before moving upstairs to an exhibit which puts you inside the world’s most famous stadiums, with floor-to-ceiling video screens recreating Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera, Brazil’s Maracana, and London’s Wembley.
Then the memorabilia begins. It goes on and on, with room after room of historic shirts, each space dedicated to a particular competition, continent or era. Each shirt is attributed to a particular player and most to a specific match. Scanning a QR code alongside each shirt gives you its story. The first room is dedicated to what might be considered the lesser-known international tournaments: the FIFA Confederations Cup, the AFC Asian Cup and the UEFA Nations League.
Then the European Championships are represented, from the first in 1960 to the present day, with one shirt per tournament. There’s Ruud Gullit’s Netherlands shirt from the Euro 1988 final — a strong contender for the coolest kit design of all time — alongside Andres Iniesta’s shirt from Spain’s 4-0 thrashing of Italy in Euro 2012 to win a record third tournament in a row.
Next it’s the Copa America, and Lionel Messi‘s shirt from Argentina’s 2021 penalty shootout win over Colombia in the semifinals, on their way to ending the agonising wait for the country’s first trophy since 1993.
A space dedicated to the Spain national team follows, with shirts worn by Gerard Pique, Juan Carlos Valeron and Fernando Hierro. Ordas says Pique called him personally to offer his shirt when he heard that the collection was lacking. Then there is the shirt worn by Spain captain and goalkeeper Casillas in the 2010 final in Johannesburg.
Ordas says Iniesta’s shirt that day — as he scored the extra-time goal that gave Spain their only World Cup — is on its way soon.
The focus turns to LaLiga, Ordas’ partners and backers in the project, with shirts from Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff, Maradona, Xavi Hernandez, Mario Kempes and Cristiano Ronaldo. More of Europe’s top leagues are represented: the Premier League, Ligue 1 and Serie A.
The Champions League room contains some of the collection’s most sought-after items. Here you’ll find Paco Gento’s Real Madrid shirt from the 1957 European Cup final, Cruyff’s No. 14 Ajax shirt from 1972, and the shirt that goal scorer Patrick Kluivert wore in the 1995 final.
The most recent belongs to Rodrygo Goes, worn in Real Madrid’s 3-1 Champions League semifinal comeback win in 2022 against Manchester City at the Bernabeu as he scored in the 90th and 91st minutes.
Then it’s the World Cup room, where the highlights include a Hungary shirt worn by Ferenc Puskas in 1954, and a one of flying Brazil winger Garrincha in 1958.
“If I had to choose one [shirt], I’d say Garrincha’s” Ordas tells ESPN. “Or Maradona in 1986. Paolo Rossi in 1982. Giuseppe Meazza in 1934. Bobby Charlton, Johan Cruyff, [Franz] Beckenbauer. Pele in 1970. And obviously Lionel Messi’s from the first half against Mexico [in the group stage in Qatar], given to me in person in Doha, at the last World Cup.”
Madrid has made a persuasive case for being the European capital of football in recent years, peaking when Real Madrid faced Atletico Madrid in two Champions League finals in three years in 2014 and 2016. Real’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium is already one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions — with its tour bringing in 1.3 million visitors in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit — while Atletico opened the ‘Atletico Territory’ museum at their new Metropolitano stadium in 2020.
Football fans visiting Madrid now have a third, obligatory stop to make.
“Those of us who weren’t born here see Madrid as a mixture of art and football,” Ordas says. “There’s art in the Prado [Spain’s main national art museum] and football with Real and Atletico. It’s a perfect combination. What Legends has done over all these years is collect these artworks from what we call humanity’s biggest passion, which is football.”
Madrid ‘Legends’ museum home to Pele, Maradona, Messi shirts