Afghan boy finally got the Lionel Messi jersey he always wanted

The World
Five year-old Murtaza Ahmadi, an Afghan Lionel Messi fan, wears a shirt signed by Barcelona star Lionel Messi as he plays football at the open area in Kabul, Afghanistan February 26, 2016.

Five year-old Murtaza Ahmadi, an Afghan Lionel Messi fan, wears a shirt signed by Barcelona star Lionel Messi as he plays football at the open area in Kabul, Afghanistan February 26, 2016.

REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Back in January, Murtaza Ahmadi's picture went viral. He was wearing a striped, blue and white plastic bag turned soccer jersey.

It was his older brother, Hamayon, who had made him the jersey. The family live in a poor and volatile part of Afghanistan and they could not afford a real Lionel Messi jersey. Little Murtaza, however, insisted on one.

“He kept crying for days asking for the shirt until his brother Hamayon helped him make one from the plastic bag to make him happy,” Murtaza's father, Arif Ahmadi, told CNN. “He stopped crying after wearing that plastic shirt.”

The shirt even had the player's name and number on it written in blue ink.

Hamayon posted a couple of pictures of Murtaza in his plastic bag jersey and it didn't take long for the posts to go viral.

A Twitter account belonging to Lionel Messi posted a picture of Murtaza with the caption “A kid in Iraq” and included an emoji of a breaking heart. At that point, it wasn't clear where Murtaza lived, that's why the caption mistakenly referred to Iraq.

Reporters and social media users went on a quest to find the boy and locate his whereabouts. In the end, a BBC team in Kabul managed to track him down.

Harun Najafizada, one of the reporters at the BBC Kabul bureau says Murtaza's family live in Jaghori, southwest of Kabul. The residents of Jaghori live in relative peace, Najafizada says, but the road from their province to Kabul is very dangerous.

"They are surrounded by areas where Taliban have huge presence," he says from Kabul. "When they are traveling towards Kabul or towards Pakistan, the road is very dangerous and hundreds of people have been caught up in insecurity."

But the dangerous road leading to Murtaza's home didn't stop UNICEF Afghanistan from getting him the shirt. Lionel Messi signed two jerseys as well as a soccer ball and sent them Murtaza's way.

The UN agency posted a video of Murtaza proudly showing off his brand new jersey and soccer ball. "I love Messi, and my shirt says Messi loves me,” UNICEF quoted him as saying.

Najafizada, who spoke with Murtaza after he received his gifts, says that the whole family is ecstatic. Soccer in Afghanistan is a hugely popular sport, he adds.

"There are several [soccer] stars in addition to Messi in this country whose photos and pictures are all around, on the cars, and everywhere," he says.

Najafizada explains that the family have become known as the "Afghan Messi" inside the country and Afghans are paying them a visit just to see the signed shirt and soccer ball.

"Everyone who has a love for football is inspired by what has happened to Murtaza," he says.