Lionel Messi's first football club

Rahul Pathak goes to the Grandoli club in Rosario, where a four-year-old Lionel Messi first gave notice of his genius, and finds that the little Argentine has competition in the popularity stakes.

     

    It is a freezing cold but sunny July morning. Two teams of five-year-old boys play on a dusty pitch, watched by a small but enthusiastic crowd of parents and children. Welcome to Grandoli, Lionel Messi's first football club.

    I travelled the 300km journey north of the capital, Buenos Aires, to Rosario to find out more about the club where the (very) young Messi first made his name.

     

    David Trevez, the club president, told me the future World Player of the Year showed his quality almost straight away when he joined back in 1991.

    "He had something since he was born, it was stunning what they saw him do at the age of four," he said.

    "He was doing the kinds of things that he does today but then the ball came up to his knees it was incredible.

    "We were concerned about his physical problems, particularly his size, and we worried how he would progress considering his lack of growth.

    "But his technical skills made us think we were looking at the new (Diego) Maradona."

    Unfortunately Grandoli's relationship with Messi ended on a sour note, as a falling out between the family and the club resulted in Messi going to play with the youth team at Newell's Old Boys, the local professional side. 

    It may explain why Messi hasn't come back to visit the club where it all started.

    "He comes back to Rosario every year because his family is here - one of his brothers lives here - but unfortunately he hasn't returned to the club," Trevez told me.

    "I was with him, I spoke to him, and he agreed to come back. But it hasn't happened yet. "I hope it does, because for the kids he's their idol."

    As if to prove his point, once the match is over all the Grandoli boys are eager to give me their opinion on Messi and why he hasn't reproduced his Barcelona form for Argentina.

    "Messi plays different because he has different teammates," says one. "Because at Barca he has players who give him the ball like Xavi and Iniesta and they play for him," says another.

    Interestingly, when I ask them who their favourite player is, Cristiano Ronaldo gets as many votes as Messi.

    Whether or not the club will discover another Messi remains to be seen, but the bulging trophy cabinet and number of players suggest a team in pretty good health.

    "The kids pay a fee of 10 pesos a month," Trevez says. "What they get is a game on the weekends, we also try to get subsidies from the government and that’s what we survive on. We try to give the kids the best we can, we're doing very well."

    Right now playing without the weight of the world on your shoulders must feel an awful long way away for Lionel Messi.  

    Watching him during Argentina's game with Colombia even though he was way short of his best, he still produced the pass of the match. Unfortunately Lavezzi then produced one of the misses of the match which ended 0-0.

    If his teammates can step up and give him the support he deserves then they should go through from this group with a win against Costa Rica.  Whether Argentina can win it, after this performance I seriously doubt it. 


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