15 January, 2011

Lionel Messi: the role model and People's Champion

He is Argentinian and Spanish; he has won many awards, including the Ballon d'Or; he is the founder and patron of the Leo Messi Foundation which helps and supports children. He is undoubtedly the best football player today; and is one of the best players ever. He is 5' 6". He is Lionel Messi or, in full: Luis Lionel Andrés Messi. But - the awards, his being a wonderful player - aside. It is his unique character among today's sportsmen that makes him stand out above all.

Lionel Messi overcame seemingly insuperable odds to get to become the legend he is today. He came from a poor family and had hormone/growth deficiency problems which restricted his growth. Messi was born in Rosario, Santa Fe Province, to parents Jorge Horácio Messi, a factory steel worker, and Celia María Cuccittini, a part-time cleaner. His paternal family originates from the Italian city of Ancona, from where his ancestor, Angelo Messi, emigrated to Argentina in 1883. He has two older brothers, Rodrigo and Matías, and a sister, María Sol. At the age of five, Messi started playing football for Grandoli, a local club coached by his father Jorge. In 1995, Messi switched to Newell's Old Boys who were based in his home city Rosario. He became part of a local youth powerhouse that lost only one match in the next four years and became locally known as "The Machine of '87", from the year of their birth.

At the age of 11, Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. Local powerhouse River Plate showed interest in Messi's progress, but were not willing to pay for treatment for his condition, which cost $900 a month. Carles Rexach, the sporting director of FC Barcelona, was made aware of his talent as Messi had relatives in Lleida in western Catalonia, and Messi and his father were able to arrange a trial with the team. Rexach, with no other paper at hand, offered Messi a contract written on a paper napkin. Barcelona offered to pay Messi's medical bills on the condition that he moved to Spain. Messi and his father duly moved to Barcelona, where Messi enrolled in the club's youth academy. The rest is one of the greatest soccer histories ever. "What I do is play soccer," Messi says, "which is what I like." And he does play football, with such grace and command that utterly awes.

He is strong in character; always smiling, is very pleasing, very friendly and suave; he; never loses his composure, no matter how bad things are. He is poised, confident and above all - is always so humble and down to earth, that one can't help but very much like, respect and admire the man. Very much unlike many of today's sportsmen, especially footballers, he is very exemplary: he doesn't put on earrings or have dreadlocks or dye his hairs or dress in any weird way or act flamboyantly. That is how Pele was; and so, as outspoken and radical as he was, was Muhammad Ali. Like the two, Lionel Messi is a people's champion; and for today's youth, like Pele and Ali during their time, a role model. A role model that today's young can emulate.

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+ Photos: Google