The mystery of a boy pictured wearing a homemade Lionel Messi football shirt – improvised from a blue-and-white striped plastic bag – has finally been solved. The young fan in a photograph that spread on social media has been identified as Murtaza Ahmadi, a five-year-old boy who lives in a Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan.
Murtaza had no idea he had become an Internet sensation after his elder brother, Homayoun, 15, posted the photographs on Facebook two weeks ago. Thousands of amateur sleuths trawled through picture archives trying to find the boy, as offers flooded in of real football shirts.
Murtaza, whose father admitted he could not afford to buy him a replica jersey, said he had only a punctured ball to play with in his village in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province. “I love Messi, he plays well, the shirt was made by my brother and I liked it very much,” he said after being tracked down by the AFP news agency. “We do not have a football playground near our house, and the only ball I have is punctured. I want to be like Messi, when I grow up.”
The shirt was made by his brother, from a plastic bag with Messi’s name and number written on with marker pen. Internet detectives initially believed the boy in the pictures was an Iraqi Kurd before Murtaza’s uncle Azim Ahamdi, who lives in Australia, posted pictures of his nephew and said he was the unwitting star of the story.
The family, who live in a remote rural area, only learnt about Murtaza’s newfound fame from relatives when Murtaza’s father’s visited the Afghan capital Kabul. He told AFP he had high hopes for his son.
“He asked me to buy him a Messi jersey but I am a farmer and could not afford it,” Mohammad Arif Ahamdi, a father of six, said. “Murtaza wants to meet Lionel Messi in person one day. I want my son to become a good football player in the future and become the Messi of Afghanistan.”
Football is hugely popular in Afghanistan although the national stadium in Kabul was used as a venue for executions during the years of Taliban rule until 2001.