It is not unusual to hear a Lionel Messi solo goal, a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick, a Xavi pass or a Gianluigi Buffon save described as “a work of art”, much to the chagrin no doubt of the intellectuals of the art world.

Although we will never see such “masterpieces” lining the walls of an art gallery, except in a video installation perhaps, the sport of football and the myriad treasures and memorabilia associated with it is a core component of many a permanent and temporary exhibition across the world.

Not surprisingly, given the global popularity of the game, football museums and exhibitions are hugely popular with the game’s legions of followers, as the Madrid Tourist Board can vouch. The Spanish capital’s top three attractions are the Museo del Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia art galleries, followed in fourth place by the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid’s imposing home ground.

One of the highlights of the stadium tour at the Bernabeu is the club museum, where visitors can admire a dazzling array of silverware, including the nine trophies Los Blancos have won as the champions of Europe. Also on the itinerary is a visit to the director’s box, the changing rooms and the pitch itself.

In recent times an average of 700,000 people a year have made the pilgrimage to the stadium, some 40 per cent of them from outside Spain, an indication of the universal popularity enjoyed by the game’s major institutions.

However, those figures are nothing in comparison to those generated by Madrid’s eternal rivals Barcelona, whose recent dominance on the pitch is reflected by the popularity of the club museum, which attracted a staggering 1,303,738 visitors in 2010 alone.

These days there are few clubs around the world that do not have a museum of their own, where trophies, legendary shirts and iconic items are put on display for their loyal fans to savour.

Several national football associations have also followed suit, one of the latest to do so was the Spanish FA (RFEF), which opened its Museo de la Seleccion (national team museum) in Madrid only last May.

The history of the game
One of the most internationally acclaimed of them all is the National Football Museum in Preston, England, which is currently relocating to nearby Manchester and will reopen this autumn. Rather than focusing on a single club or national team, the NFM offers a global vision of the world’s most popular sport and comes recommended by some of British football’s leading figures.

“I can’t imagine there’s a better museum anywhere in the world,” said 1966 FIFA World Cup™ winner Sir Bobby Charlton, a sentiment echoed by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: “Every time I visit the museum I’m always amazed by how well it expresses football’s rich history.”

Among its prize exhibits are original balls used at the 1930 FIFA World Cup Uruguay and shirts worn at the first international match in history, between England and Scotland in 1872. Also on display is the jersey donned by Diego Maradona in Argentina’s quarter-final against England at Mexico 1986, a game made memorable by his “Hand of God” goal and his superb solo effort shortly after.

Every time I visit the museum I’m always amazed by how well it expresses football’s rich history.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Moving north of the border, the Scottish Football Museum claims to be the world’s oldest and houses more than 2,000 exhibits, among them a ticket to that 1872 meeting between England and Scotland and the game’s oldest trophy, the Scottish Cup, first awarded in 1873.

The museum, which is situated in Glasgow, also gives sterling support to Alzheimer sufferers, using football as a means of stimulating their memory.

The lifeblood of a nation 
If there is one country in the world where football is more than just a sport, then that country is Brazil. Such is the passion for the game there that the nation’s Museo do Futebol, located at the Estadio Pacaembu in Sao Paulo, is widely regarded as Brazil’s “museum of history”.

As you might expect, the five-time world champions are not exactly short of material to put on display, although some of the star attractions are the videos containing original footage of landmark goals scored in the 1940s and 50s, complete with spine-tingling commentary. The museum also has classrooms where children can learn about the history of the country’s number-one sport.

Uruguay has its own Museo del Futbol, located at the mythical Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, the venue of the first FIFA World Cup Final. Showcasing genuine relics from those inaugural world finals, the museum is as awe-inspiring as its venerated surroundings.

Given Latin America’s status as a footballing hotbed, it is no surprise to learn there are many such establishments dotted across the region. Among them is the Museo Sudamericano de Futbol in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion in 2009.

The building has a floor area of 9,450 square metres, 1,500 of which are set aside for exhibitions, and a cinema complex with seven big screens. Its star exhibit is a replica of the FIFA World Cup Trophy, which was presented by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter on the day it was opened. “Trophies are usually only awarded to the winners, but today we are going to make an exception,” said Blatter on handing over the much-coveted cup.

O Rei and El Diez
Such is their contribution to football that two of the game’s greatest exponents have also been deemed worthy of museum space.

The incomparable Pele will shortly have one all to himself. Due for completion in 2012, the museum will pay homage to his life and sporting triumphs and will feature over 3000 items belonging to the legendary No10. The entrance to the building, situated in the city of Santos, in Sao Paulo state, will be presided over by a majestic statue of the player designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. “The museum will be of great cultural value to our country,” said a suitably impressed Pele.

Not to be outdone, Maradona donated a selection of his most prized possessions to a touring exhibition a few years ago. It is not known, however, if the Argentinian ace is contemplating following Pele’s example by setting up a permanent display.

With so many fine museums dedicated to clubs, national teams and individual players around the world, we would like to know which ones you would recommend paying a visit. So click on ‘Add your comment’ below and give us your suggestions.