Just as we saw little of [Messi] in Rosario [his hometown], many of its citizens see little of him in themselves. Messi is as unknown to the people of his hometown as he is to me, sitting in my office watching his famous goal against Getafe over and over on Youtube. They don't understand how he plays, or how he acts, and they don't see a clean cause and effect, no X+Y=Z, that would explain either. Diego Maradona, they get. He grew up violently poor, in a slum named Villa Fiorito. His entire life was a fight to escape the facts of his own birth, and when he succeeds, and even when he fails, his countrymen recognize his struggle. They understand the wellspring of his talent and his demons. Everything Maradona has ever done can be explained by the rough streets of Fiorito.
Messi, now 25, plays like no one they've ever seen. His talent can't be easily explained by biography: a middle-class kid from a stable and ordinary family. Until he became a superstar for Barcelona, seemingly overnight, most people in his hometown had never heard his name. His greatest accomplishments in Rosario came for a youth team. They lost one game in the four years they played together. In the small world of people who follow local children's sports, they became known as The Machine of '87, after the year they were all born.
There was a problem, though, an ocean separating potential and realization. When Messi was 9, he stopped growing. Doctors discovered a hormone deficiency and put him on a regimen of daily injections, which he gave himself, carrying around a little cooler when he went to play with friends.
"Will I grow?" a teary Messi asked.
"You will be taller than Maradona," his doctor, Diego Schwarsztein, told him. "I don't know if you will be better, but you will be taller."
His soccer club, the local professional powerhouse Newell's Old Boys, agreed to help pay for the drugs, but, as costs mounted, it eventually stopped. Frustrated, his father found someone who would pay: Barca. So when Leo was 13, after The Machine of '87 won its final championship, he and his dad, Jorge, moved to Spain. Before Messi left he stopped into his doctor's office to say goodbye. Schwarsztein wished him luck and Messi handed him his Newell's jersey, tiny, with the number nine on the back. He autographed it, then rode with his father to the Buenos Aires airport, trading his old comfortable life for an unknown new one.
His mother ultimately stayed behind with his siblings, dividing the family, and Messi, always shy, struggled. When he cried, which was often, he hid. He didn't want his father to see. His whole family revolved around his future; Barca even agreed to employ Jorge while Leo trained at the club's famous youth academy. He went to class, reluctantly, but really he was a professional athlete by the age of 13. Four years passed. During this time of loneliness, when he was a child supporting his family, he changed from Lionel into ... Messi. He grew. Schwarsztein was right. Maradona is 5-foot-5. Messi is 5-foot-7. The next time people in Rosario heard his name, he was a star. "It is difficult to be a hero in your own city," explained Marcelo Ramirez, a family friend and radio host who showed us text messages from Messi. "He didn't grow up here. It's like he lost contact with the people. He is more an international figure than a Rosarino."
My family and I thank you all for the comments and messages of affection that we have received today, but we want to make it clear that the information circulating that my son has been born is completely false. A hug to everyone!