PHOTO: Argentina’s own Lionel Messi (Photo via Facebook)
Arguably the most well-traveled person on Aerolineas Argentinas just might be the world’s greatest soccer player.
And if Lionel Messi isn’t the most well-traveled, he certainly is the most talked-about person onboard during conversations.
The Argentinian-born Messi is no stranger to making headlines, most often for his phenomenal plays on the field and his generosity off the field. In 2012, he scored 86 goals in a single year, breaking the 1972 record of 85 goals in a year.
But as often as his name has appeared in print, there are still some things you may not know about him:
He’s overcome childhood adversity. At 5 feet 7 inches, he is small but mighty and one of soccer’s smaller players. As a child he was diagnosed with a hormone deficiency that resulted in his needing costly treatment and nightly growth-hormone injections. It was in part because of their promise to cover his treatments that he signed with FC Club Barcelona at the age of 13.
He supports children: In 2007, he created the Leo Messi Foundation to help kids at risk. Three years later, Messi was named a Children’s Ambassador for UNICEF, the United Nations’ charity that promotes the rights and wellbeing of children in 190 countries and territories across the world. As part of his role, Messi visited Argentina, Haiti and Costa Rica to increase awareness about children’s issues in these countries. Messi is a strong supporter of children’s causes outside the scope of UNICEF, as well. For example, he donated more than $800,000 to build an oncology unit at a children’s hospital in his hometown. More recently, he has given generously to programs to assist the child victims caught in the Syrian Civil War.
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He’s leaving a legacy. So great is his reputation on the field that several football clubs showed interest in Thiago, his first-born son, pretty much as soon as he was born. In fact, the baby wasn’t more than three days old when he was signed with Newell’s Old Boys, which had signed Messi when he was a child. Today, he’s the proud father to another son, Mateo, born in 2015.
He’s a hometown boy. Messi hails from Rosario, Argentina, and given his global fame, one would naturally assume that he is the city’s most famous son. But you know what they say about people who assume. Rosario is, in fact, home to another internationally recognized man—Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary who was a key player in overthrowing Cuba’s Batista regime and whose face today is symbolic of the counter-culture movement.
He’s got a gold foot. Literally. Ginza Tanaka, a Japanese jeweler, made a 10-inch, 55-pound gold cast of Messi’s left foot to honor his having won the Ballon d’Or an unprecedented four times. He’s the only player in history to have done so, but even more impressively, he did it in three consecutive years (2010, 2011 and 2012) and again in 2015. The cast, worth $5.25 million, was eventually auctioned off to raise money to help the victims of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.