A five-year-old Afghan boy photographed wearing an improvised Lionel Messi shirt made out of a plastic bag has finally received the genuine article – and it was signed by the Barcelona superstar.
Murtaza Ahmadi shot to internet fame after photographs of him dressed in the blue-and-white top with Messi’s name written on it went viral in January, prompting people to try to track him down.
A signed Argentina jersey and a football were delivered to Murtaza in the central province of Ghazni by the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.
“I love Messi and my shirt says Messi loves me,” UNICEF quoted Murtaza as saying.
The boy’s father, Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, said: “A woman from UNICEF got in contact with us and told us a couple of days ago that Murtaza might be receiving a package from Messi.
“He is very happy to receive the gifts.”
Earlier in February, the Afghan Football Federation (AFF) told Al Jazeera that the boy would get a chance to meet his football hero but a date and venue had still not been confirmed.
Speaking to Al Jazeera in a phone call earlier in February, Murtaza said: “I love Messi and football. I will meet him one day.”
The making of viral fame
Murtaza’s brother Homayoun made the improvised shirt – that perfectly fitted the little boy – and scribbled Messi’s name and his No 10 in it.
“Murtaza found a plastic bag and ran towards me, asking me to make a jersey out of it for him,” 15-year-old Homayoun told Al Jazeera.
“We can’t even imagine buying the original Messi jersey. We just can’t afford it so, to make my brother happy, I made a shirt out of that plastic bag for him.”
The boy’s father said that he has been overwhelmed by the response to the photographs.
“We did not expect that we would get this kind of support from everyone. People from all over the world have been calling me to help get Murtaza a jersey and a football,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Murtaza can’t hold it. He is so excited by the news of meeting Messi. We don’t know when is it going to happen, but we are humbled by the response we got.”