Before he was a star for Argentina at the World Cup and before he was 3-time winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or, given to the world’s best footballer, Lionel Messi played youth soccer for the Argentina powerhouse, Newell’s Old Boys, based in his hometown of Rosario, Santa Fe.
It was there that Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency which ultimately led him to sign with Barcelona at the age of 13 when the Spanish club was willing to pay the $US750 per month cost to treat Messi’s condition.
Since Messi left Argentina when he was just 13, there are still some in his hometown that still refuse to root for him even as he leads the hopes of the entire country at the World Cup.
Wright Thompson of ESPN recently visited Rosario where he found a town with a strong passion for soccer and divided by the colours of Messi’s Newell’s Old Boys and their hated-crosstown-rival, Rosario Central.
A local doctor explained the feelings towards Messi.
“People from Newell’s are expecting Messi to be the best,” the doctor told Thompson. “People from Rosario Central are waiting for Messi to fail.”
The doctor’s 18-year-old son went further, explaining that supporters of Rosario Central “hate Messi.” However, the doctor said “hate” was too strong, instead saying “They don’t want Messi to be as important as he is.”
Some locals also relayed a story to Jeff Himmelman of the New York Times about a recent match at Rosario Central’s stadium when fans booed a picture of Messi in the national team’s uniform on the scoreboard. The booing continued until the picture was taken down.
However, Messi is troublesome for even some of Newell’s Old Boys supporters as he is described by Thompson as the “golden ticket” the club threw away because they were too cheap to pay his medical bills.
The disdain for Messi even extends outside of Rosario according to Himmelman. There are people in Argentina that are not fond of Messi because he left too soon and didn’t play in Argentina’s first division and that he “isn’t Argentine enough.”
There is a lot of pressure on Messi to help Argentina win their first World Cup since 1986. But even if he succeeds, some will still not be happy for Messi, public enemy no. 1 to many in his own hometown.
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