Special Jersey

Argentine football star Lionel Messi hasn’t sent anything, but two jerseys to the five-year-old Afghan boy who became an Internet sensation last month when he was pictured wearing a plastic bag with “Messi” scrawled on it in marker pen. Murtaza Ahmadi travelled with his family from eastern Ghazni province to Kabul to receive the gifts sent by Messi through UNICEF. “Murtaza couldn’t stop smiling. He kept repeating: I love Messi,” UNICEF Afghanistan spokesman Denise Shepherd-Johnson told AFP. Messi autographed the jerseys, writing “With much love” in Spanish on them, and added a football to the treasure trove, UNICEF said. Purchasing a Messi jersey was beyond the means of Murtaza’s poor family, members of the persecuted ethnic Hazara minority living in volatile Ghazni, near Kabul. His elder brother Homayoun, 15, improvised the blue and white striped plastic shirt with Messi’s name scrawled in black marker, and posted the photos of Murtaza wearing it on Facebook in mid-January. The image touched a chord with football fans around the world, and earned Murtaza the sobriquet “little Messi” on social media.

The Afghan Football Federation had said Messi was in contact with them to arrange a meeting with Murtaza as soon as possible, with the Spanish embassy in Kabul telling AFP it would do whatever possible to facilitate. But a source close to Messi’s entourage said earlier this month they could neither confirm nor deny the speculation regarding a possible meeting. Setting up a meeting in Afghanistan, in the grip of a fierce Taliban insurgency, is fraught with security challenges. Dressed in a tatty make shift Lionel Messi soccer shirt styled from a plastic bag, a little Afghan fan dreams of becoming a soccer star one day like the Barcelona legend. Murtaza Ahmadi ,5, can often be seen playing on muddy grpund in front of his home in the eastern province of Ghazni. “My greatest desire is to meet with Messi one day, to learn from him and become a star like him,” Murtaza said. With his room adorned with posters of the star, the child known locally as Messi-e-Kochak(junior Messi) gained worldwide fame after photos of him dressed in the makeshift Messi shirt were posted on Facebook by his elder brother Hamayon. Internet users quickly launched a global search to identify the youngster, and an Iraqi television program initially claimed that the boy was from Kurdistan in Iraq. However, Murtaza’s uncle and some Afghan youths correctly identified one of Messi’s youngest fans. Inspired by Messi’s personality and achievements, the boy never misses a match on TV in which the star is playing, according to his father, Arif Ahmadi, 44. Messi’s father, Jorge Messi, said his son is aware of the photos that made waves on social media and “wants to do something” for his young fan. On Monday, the Afghanistan Football Federation said Messi is keen to meet with  Murtazaas soon soon as possible, although no date or venue has been finalized.