Barcelona and Argentina striker Lionel Messi turns 30 on Saturday.
His prolific goalscoring for club and country has made him a global superstar, but there is more to the man from Rosario than meets the eye.
Here, we identify five things you might not know about the mercurial Messi.
A nitty nickname
‘La Pulga’ is not a familiar term to most British football fans but in Spain and Argentina the moniker is synonymous with Messi. It means ‘The Flea’ as the diminutive forward is a constant pest during games and, as the opposition try and fail to swat him away, he is likely to bite them at any time.
Messi has numerous tattoos, including a rose window inspired by Barcelona’s famous Sagrada Familia church on his right arm, as well as his mother’s face on his shoulder blade and the hand prints of his first child Thiago on his calf, among other adornments.
Messi stands at 5ft 7in partly because of a growth hormone deficiency, with which he was diagnosed when he was 11 and already a star youth performer with Newell’s Old Boys. The Argentinian club were unable to provide serious funding for his treatment and it was not until he sealed a switch to Barca in 2001 that he was able to take regular injections of hormones to aid his development.
In early 2019 a new theme park will open in Nanjing, China. There will be 81,000 square metres of football-based attractions with an intention to “immerse visitors in Messi’s universe.” Yes, the Messi Experience Park is in development but Chinese day-trippers cannot expect to see too much of the Barca star around the site. “Hopefully they will feel that I am around when visiting the park,” he said during a trip to China earlier this month.
Do cry for me, Argentina
Despite his innumerable successes with Barcelona, Messi has experienced little real joy across his 118 appearances for Argentina. His international career started well enough as he won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2005 and an Olympic gold medal three years later. But he has twice tasted defeat in the Copa America final and was on the losing side when Argentina met Germany in the 2014 World Cup final. Now, even at 30, he will still have opportunities to guide La Albiceleste to silverware.
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