It's COPA time and Messi's birthday time too
We are in June; exactly the month of Messi's birthday and exactly the time when the national teams of America are competing in "Copa America", of course Messi is playing with the Argentinian national team. I am sure that everyone in India knows Messi, I do not need to present him at this point, but I presume that just few people know his real life story. He is turning 28 on June 24 and I think it is a good idea to celebrate the master of football's birthday by getting to know him better. First, I would like to tell my experience in India regarding football and Messi; I swear it will be interesting.
I have been in India for four months in 2014 and everywhere I went and said that I was from Argentina, the immediate answer was: MESSI (alongwith a smiling face). I used to travel a lot when I was a kid, and I remember that the most common answer and reaction of the people everywhere was MARADONA. I remember my father spending quite a lot of time with locals talking about Maradona's game, private life and of course, about the "The Hand of God". But, as the world keeps moving and things keeps changing, in the 21st century, the answer when I am abroad and I say that I am from Argentina is definitely MESSI! Then, after this first reaction, I usually start talking about football and how rivals we are with Brazilians. As well, I start supporting Messi against Neymar or Ronaldo, because it is also true that many people prefer the Brazilian or the Portuguese player to Messi, and of course it is respectable, but it is my duty as an Argentinian citizen to stand up for the Argentinian talents around the world. I know about football because I grew up with football, as many girls and boys in my country. My dad and my big brother are crazy about football, especially about their team in the national league. In Argentina there are quite a lot of big teams, but the most popular football match is between two teams born together in Buenos Aires (the capital of the nation); River Plate and Boca Juniors. The meeting of these two teams is normally called in Spanish as "El clásico", which in English means the classic, which can be inferred as the most famous rivalry and match in Argentina. Well, I love Boca Juniors because my dad and brother belong to that club. In Argentina, being from one team or another has a lot to do with your family, is something that come with us since we are born, is something that we inherit, is something that is going through generations and I am sure it will last forever.
Football is our religion, some believe. We are not a country where religion is the guide of our lives, where religion is spread like in India, where religion is a must. This is not to say that religion is good or bad, it is just mentioning that football could have the same role as religion. Football in Argentina is a tradition, football is something that unify the family, football is something that you share with your friends, football is the topic of a conversation in a bus stop or during a ride in a train, football is definitely one of the strongest passion of the Argentineans. Everyone, knowing a lot about football or knowing nothing about it, can spend hours talking about this popular sport; the most popular in the country although not the national sport, as many would think. Can you imagine what the national Argentina's sport is? I will definitely say it because not even locals know the answer. "Juego del Pato", literally "duck game", is a game played on horseback that combines elements from polo and basketball. Pato is the Spanish term for "duck", as early games used a live duck inside a basket instead of a ball. It is the national sport of the country since 1953, it has to do with the history of our nation, it was a prestigious activity among locals but today, football has become unquestionably much more popular than "Pato". It is something usually debate among young people and politicians; football should become the national sport.
Coming back to Messi, it is popularly known that he is a "winner", not only in his personal life but also regarding his professional career. Messi is the first football player in history to win four FIFA/Ballons d'Or, all of which he won consecutively, and the first to win three European Golden Shoe awards. With Barcelona Team, Messi has won seven "La Ligas", three "Copas del Rey", six "Supercopas" from Spain, three UEFA Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups, and the list keeps going. He has beats all records, he keeps scoring and making wonderful goals, he keeps earning money, but of course, he keeps earning fans all over the world. There is no country on earth that does not love or admire Lionel Messi, it is difficult not to do that after watching his last matches. He is currently competing with the Argentinian national team on "Copa America" played in our neighboring country, Chile; we are already crazy about his game on this cup.
At the age of five, Messi started playing football for Grandoli, a local club in Rosario (his hometown in Argentina), coached by his father Jorge, a factory steel worker. His love for football started when he was a kid. In 1995, Messi switched to Newell's Old Boys who were based in Rosario. He became part of a local youth team that lost only one match in the next four years and became locally known as "The Machine of '87", the year of his birth. He started to become a huge actor in the local football teams but unfortunately his career was hampered at that time. At the age of 11, Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency, which means that it was difficult for him to grow as other kids of his age. Local team River Plate showed interest in Messi's progress, but were not willing to pay for treatment for his condition, which cost approximately 900US$ a month. This money was impossible to afford for the Messi family, whose income was about 500US$ a month (that amount is the minimum a five members-family needed to survive at that time). Carles Rexach, the sporting director of FC Barcelona, was made aware of his talent as Messi had relatives in Lleida (western Catalonia). Messi tried really hard to show and prove Barça his unique talent, to show that he was worthy such as costly treatment. Finally, Messi and his father were able to arrange a trial with the team; Barcelona offered to pay Messi's medical bills on the condition that he moved to Spain and started training for the team. Messi and his father duly moved to Barcelona, where Messi enrolled in the club's youth academy.
Messi made his official debut for the first team on November 2003, in a friendly match against Porto. When he scored his first senior goal for the club against Albacete Balompié on 1 May 2005, Messi was 17 years, becoming the youngest to ever score in "La Liga" game for Barcelona.On September 2005 Barcelona announced an update to Messi's contract; this time it was improved to pay him as a first team member and extended until June 2014. As well, Messi obtained Spanish citizenship and was finally able to make his debut in the season's Spanish First Division. During the 2006–07 seasons, Messi established himself as a regular first team player, scoring 14 times in 26 matches. In 2008, upon Ronaldinho's departure from the club, Messi inherited his number 10 jersey. After winning the 2009 UEFA Super Cup, Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola asserted that Messi was probably the best player he had ever seen. This would also be the season in which Guardiola would first move Messi from the position of right-winger into his now iconic "false-9" role in the centre of the front line at Barcelona team. From that moment and on, Messi has doubtlessly entered the list of the best football players in this world with a huge numbers of prizes and huge number of won championships.
In the local and in the international scene, Messi is always compared to Maradona. There are many different opinions about this; for Messi it has been an honor to be compared to Diego Armando Maradona. Some people believe that is impossible to make this comparison as the players belong to different moments in history. For others, Maradona and Messi are similar in the way they run with the ball and in the way they play in small spaces during a match. For Maradona, "Lio", as he usually calls Messi, is an extremely great player, the biggest player at the moment, but he insists that his goals were nicer than Lio's current scores. Maradona and Messi have certainly a nice and friendly relation, this has been perceived during the South Africa World Cup 2010. Beyond the idea of Maradona vs. Messi, in Argentina we love them both, with no distinction. Maradona used to have millions of fans but Messi absolutely have much more today. Messi has become known internationally and has an impact on different generations. Young people today haven't seen Maradona playing, although TV and Internet play a relevant role; we can watch the "Hand of God" from home at any time. As well, Messi's personal life has been characterized with a low-profile image, in contrast with Maradona,who is still on the media because of the chaos of his private life. I think this is the main difference between them and this is what makes Messi even more popular and special than Maradona. It is also ok for those who are a bit nostalgic to believe that Diego is the best football player in the world and definitely will be the best forever.
In Argentina, we are still waiting for Messi to win the World Cup within the national team. He has been badly criticized about that; some people believe that he does not like to play for the Argentinian team. I doubt about this statement, I feel he puts everything of him on every match, no matter the colors of the jersey. I am sure we can win Russia 2018, is our wish as a nation in terms of football, we have the feeling that we were not lucky in Brazil 2014. However, as it is impossible to predict the future, let's concentrate on the present; hope our Indian friends support us on Copa America! Winning this regional tournament could be an excellent pervious step before winning the most important prize for the global football. GO ARGENTINA!
(Melisa Samaruga, young Argentinian-Italian professional, MSc in International Relations and Development. Graduated from the China and International Relations Programme from Aalborg University (Denmark) and University of International Relations (China). Freelance and passionate writer. Recent professor of International Issues and General Knowledge at CREST / Centre for Research and Social Transformation, Kozhikode - India)