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You would be surprised if someone told you that football wasn't always Lionel Messi's favourite activity. He was never the magician who bamboozled his opponents but rather the exact opposite. While growing up in the Argentinian neighbourhood of La Bajada in Rosario, he spent his time bicycling with friends, building forts, playing hide and seek, and occasionally stealing lemons from a neighbour to make juice.
When Messi dribbled past Croatian midfielders and took Argentina to the finals of the World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday, one witnessed the happiness and joy of a young lad who first enthralled his neighbours on the streets of Rosario.
In Rosario, Messi is more than a local celebrity and is the soul and culture. Messi was born on June 24, 1987, at the local hospital Italiano Garibaldi. He lived in the city until 2000 when he moved to Barcelona. During his last birthday, Rosario's City Hall put up a free tour, guiding fans through 10 stops, places where young Leo learned the basis of football. At the end of the journey, there stood a grey house, closed off with closed curtains and protected by railings. There is no sign outside indicating it was Messi's home, and no one lives there now, though it still belongs to his family. Colourful paintings dedicated to the football icon stand in front of houses along with the blue and white of Argentina's national team, with Messi's jersey number, 10, painted in black.
Today, Messi stands at the crossroad of his career. He is a match away from the ultimate prize in football, a glory previously achieved by Argentina during the reign of the legendary Maradona. Next in the line came many, but it took more than three decades for Argentina to wait for a star to lead them to the doorstep of the World Cup. However, none of this would have come to fruition if a doctor at Messi's childhood club Newell's Old Boys had not opted to examine his health. The doctor decided to conduct a medical test to find out why his adolescent body refused to enter puberty. Following the tests, a decision was taken to inject growth hormones to help him.
While one problem slowly faded away, another one cropped up in his life. The economic collapse of Argentina in the 2000s left his family in a dire financial crisis. The insurance company that covered his periodic treatment fell into bankruptcy and decided to cut down on its expenses. In a year of uncertainty, Messi bounced between life-changing decisions made by his equally struggling father, club, and family. It was during that time that Spanish giants Barcelona came calling for their future star. The doctor who came to his rescue earlier once again helped him settle in Spain. He ensured that young Leo and his father were treated properly in the foreign country using his contacts in Barcelona.
He received treatment and completed his medication when he arrived in Barcelona. In the following months, Messi grew up to his natural height and size. Looking back, every decision made by many in his life turned out as a gift to football and the world. At the end of the day, a question remains -- What if he had never left Rosario?