Football: Messi keen to bag meeting with his Afghan jersey boy

Five-year-old Murtaza Ahmadi sporting the improvised jersey bearing the name and number of his favourite player, Lionel Messi. The Argentina star has pledged to "do something" for his young Afghan fan.
Five-year-old Murtaza Ahmadi sporting the improvised jersey bearing the name and number of his favourite player, Lionel Messi. The Argentina star has pledged to "do something" for his young Afghan fan. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KABUL • Barcelona star Lionel Messi is hoping to arrange a meeting with an Afghan boy who shot to fame after pictures of him dressed in a striped plastic bag jersey went viral.

Five-year-old Murtaza Ahmadi idolises the Argentina forward but a jersey of his favourite player is beyond the means of his poor family in the volatile province of Ghazni, near Kabul.

His elder brother Homayoun, 15, had made him the blue-and-white- striped plastic shirt with Messi's name scrawled in marker pen, before posting the photos of Murtaza wearing it on Facebook in mid-January.

Jorge Messi, Lionel's father, said on Saturday that his son was aware of the photos that made waves on social media and "wants to do something" for his young fan.

The Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) yesterday said Messi was keen to meet Murtaza as soon as possible, though no date or venue has been finalised so far.

"Messi has been in communication with the federation to set up a meeting with the young boy," AFF spokesperson Sayed Ali Kazemi said. "We are working to see whether Messi will come to Afghanistan or the five-year-old will travel to Spain or they will meet in a third country."

There was no immediate comment from Barcelona.

Setting up a meeting in Afghanistan, in the grip of a fierce Taliban insurgency, is fraught with security challenges. The Spanish embassy in Kabul said it would do whatever possible to facilitate a meeting in a European destination.

Murtaza's father, a poor farmer in Ghazni's Jaghori district, admitted he could not afford to buy him a replica jersey, adding that Murtaza only had a punctured ball to play with.

Photos of the boy wearing the improvised Messi jersey - made from grocery bags discarded by their neighbour - has touched football fans around the world.

Another admirer of Messi, however, has made headlines for the wrong reasons. A Dubai court yesterday sentenced a policeman to one month in prison for posting a video showing Messi's passport on social media, local media reported.

The Gulf News daily newspaper reported on its website that the policeman, identified only by his initials J.J., was criticised in particular for having "abused the telecommunications system".

The policeman pleaded guilty and admitted he was wrong to have uploaded the post of Messi's passport to Snapchat via his smartphone.

The incident occurred in December at Dubai's international airport, where Messi had landed to attend the Globe Soccer Awards, at which he received the best player award.

The Emirati policeman wanted a photo of himself with the footballer, but was told the star was tired from the flight, The National daily reported last month.

"I then went to the passport control desk and noticed that Messi's passport had been left there, so I picked it up and shot a video of myself while holding it," the policeman was quoted as saying.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2016, with the headline 'Messi keen to bag meeting with his Afghan jersey boy'. Print Edition | Subscribe