Football: Lionel Messi lookalike is a big star in Iran

So uncanny is Reza Parastesh's (above) resemblance to Lionel Messi that he is often stopped by strangers for "wefies".
So uncanny is Reza Parastesh's (above) resemblance to Lionel Messi that he is often stopped by strangers for "wefies".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
So uncanny is Reza Parastesh's resemblance to Lionel Messi (above) that he is often stopped by strangers for "wefies".
So uncanny is Reza Parastesh's resemblance to Lionel Messi (above) that he is often stopped by strangers for "wefies".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • So popular has Reza Parastesh become that he does not mind standing in for Lionel Messi if the Argentinian footballer does not have the time to keep up with his off-field commercial commitments.

"Being the best player in footballing history, he definitely has more work than he can handle," the 25-year-old Iranian said.

"I could be his representative when he is too busy."

Parastesh's resemblance to Messi is so uncanny that sports network Eurosport UK reportedly used his photo by accident on Twitter when talking about the Barcelona superstar.

It has also caused problems for the Iranian student, as he was almost jailed this week for disrupting public order in his country.

So many people wanted to take "wefies" with him in the western city of Hamedan that police rushed him into a station and impounded his car to stop the chaos and clear traffic.

The furore began when Parastesh's father pressured the 25-year-old into posing in a No. 10 Barcelona shirt and sending the pictures to a sports website.

"I sent them one night and by the morning they had called me and said I should come in quickly for an interview," he said.

The Iranian has styled his hair and beard like Messi's, and even wears the forward's No. 10 Barcelona jersey when out on the streets.

He has even landed modelling contracts and is working on some tricks so he can better imitate Messi.

"Now people really see me as the Iranian Messi and want me to mimic everything he does. When I show up somewhere, people are really shocked," Parastesh said. "I'm really happy that seeing me makes them happy and this happiness gives me a lot of energy."

He remembers the World Cup Finals in 2014, when Messi's 91st-minute goal for Argentina robbed Iran of a place in the round of 16.

"My dad called me and said, 'Don't come back home tonight... why did you score a goal against Iran?' I said, 'But that wasn't me!' " Parastesh said with a laugh.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'Messi lookalike is a big star in Iran'. Print Edition | Subscribe