Enrique Dominguez, a football coach in Argentina who used to coach 10- year-olds, couple of decades ago, came across Lionel Messi for the first time and still remembers finding him to be a gift of life!
Fast forward 20 years, when FIFA World Cup 2018 is less than a fortnight away and the tournament’s football jerseys have also been released, Enrique is 67 years old and sitting in the Rosario club’s empty stands he gets emotional at that fond memory even today!
Talking about Lionel Messi he says, “He was a gift of life! What was special about Leo was his naturalness. Leo was the natural leader of his group of companions. Messi is exceptional. The best in history. He competes against himself, his own records.”
Enrique reminiscences that even while he used to instruct the young players, Messi used to listen to his instructions while juggling a ball, wanting to start training at the earliest.
As per the coach, the impishness that Lionel Messi brings to a football field was present even when he was a kid. As Enrique used to be slightly fat back then and used to wear a red tracksuit to coaching, Lionel had nicknamed him Santa Claus!
Even though he’s admired world over for his amazing football skills, Messi is still considered far behind Diego Maradona, the Argentine legend. However, all that might change if Messi finally brings home a World Cup for his country. Many believe that Russia is the only last chance that he has.
Diego Vallejos, Messi’s neighbour and lifelong friend still lives where they used to stay long ago. He recalls both of them hanging out together as youngsters.
Remembering his days spent with the talented footballer, Diego says, “Leo was naughty, mischievous. In football, he was better than everyone. When it rained, and when the streets around here were flooded we played with water up to our knees. What I want most is for Leo to win a World Cup, which will be his achievement. Argentina is going to have many more World Cups but I want this one to be his.”
Just like every single person in Argentina, Vallejo is also hoping for FIFA World Cup 2018 to be Messi’s.
If you visit the working class Las Heras neighbourhood, Lionel Messi’s home is still there, but stands empty today. The corner of the street has a mural that brings many important symbols of Argentina together. It has Messi with his fingers pointing towards the sky, celebrating a goal in his usual style, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Falkland Islands and Diego Maradona.
Back in 2000s, Messis were facing financial hardships. Diego Schwarztein, an endocrinologist had diagnosed Lionel Messi with a hormone deficiency 3 years earlier, and had prescribed daily injections to him. Messi’s father had lost his job, and his family couldn’t afford the treatment. None of the Argentine clubs were willing to step in. It was in those circumstances that Barcelona took charge of the 13-year-old, and the family made a move to Spain. The rest, as everyone knows, is history!