As Lionel Messi turns 34, we take a look at the lesser known off the field facts about the Barcelona and Argentina superstar.
When it comes to Lionel Messi, there isn’t much that can be said about him that many won’t have already said – or thought. The Barcelona and Argentina footballer is a world superstar in the most popular sport in the world. He’s scored plenty of goals, won enough trophies to fill a cabinet of his own and is widely considered one of the greatest ever – if not the greatest. His dribbling, creativity, speed and precise finishing terrorises defences on the regular. And his legacy is so set he could retire right now and it would make no difference.
But what about the man behind the footballer? Messi, unlike a number of his contemporaries, shuns the limelight away from the field.
Much is known about Messi the football player and the unreal numbers he’s stacked up over the years. Yet there are quite a few things about Messi the man that maybe aren’t quite as well known.
On the 34th birthday of Lionel Messi, we look at some lesser known off the field facts about him.
Many would presume that Messi’s goal celebration – that sees him point to the skies after he scores – is a way of thanking God. Indeed, as a devout Catholic, that is one of the reasons he does that every time he scores. However, the main reason he does this is to pay tribute to his grandmother.
His grandmother Celia was a key influence in his early career. As a four-year old when he joined local club Grandoli, it was his grandmother who accompanied him to training and matches.
When she passed away shortly before his 11th birthday, he was very affected by it. Thus, ever since then, he points to the skies when celebrating a goal. It’s his way of thanking her, something he does even now when he scores.
It’s a well-known fact that Messi isn’t the loudest, or the biggest talker. His reserved nature has sometimes worked against him too, with many believing he lacks the voice to be a leader. But in his early days, this caused him problems of a different type.
Messi, it must be remembered, was signed by Barcelona when he was very young. But much to his dismay, he could not play with the youth team when he first joined. This is due to the fact that Barca and Newell’s Old Boys, his boyhood club who he was playing for at the time, were in a transfer conflict.
He could only pay the occasional friendly and in Catalan league games. Due to being unable to play, Messi’s reserved nature came to the forefront. Since he never spoke to his teammates, many initially believed he was mute. That perception changed when he was able to play for the youth team and he befriended many players thereafter.
One of Messi’s best friends is Sergio Aguero, his teammate at Argentina and who joined Barcelona this summer. The two won the Olympic gold medal for Argentina in 2008 and, living together in the same room, developed a close bond. They have never played together at club level but they maintain a close relationship even today.
Aguero, it must be remembered, famously had a phone conversation with Messi while live on a Twitch stream. So it should come as little surprise that Messi is the godfather to Aguero’s son Benjamin. It will be interesting to see if the two close friends get to play together at Barcelona.
Side note: if ever Benjamin Aguero ever decides to become a footballer, he will have some boots to fill. Not only are his father and godfather at the top of the game, his grandfather is only a certain Diego Maradona. No pressure then.
It’s well known that Ronaldinho and Messi shared a close bond. It’s even more well known that then-manager Pep Guardiola sold Ronaldinho because, in part, he didn’t want the Brazilian to negatively influence the youngster – his party lifestyle was a cause for concern among many.
But what is often forgotten is that Ronaldinho believed, from Messi’s early days, that he would be the greatest ever. When Ronaldinho trained with a 16-year-old Messi, he declared the youngster would surpass even himself. He also befriended the man he called his “little brother”, easing his eventual transition into the first team.
Yet his biggest praise came in public. After winning the Ballon d’Or in 2005, Ronaldinho glibly said “I’m not even the best at Barca”, indirectly referring to Messi as the best.