Lionel Messi, Murtaza Ahmadi and the magic of being a fan

Football: Barcelona v Al Ahli friendly

Murtaza Ahmadi is one lucky, lucky boy.

If you don’t know who he is, go to Twitter or scroll down your Facebook timeline. Murtaza is everywhere. He’s just six years old but today, he’s the biggest sport story of every publication.

For those who are still living under a rock, here’s some context.

Murtaza is a football fan from Afghanistan. Last January, he became an internet sensation. No, he doesn’t have stunning skills with the ball. No, there was no video of him going past eight defenders either.

His claim to fame was his jersey. Back up, it wasn’t his jersey. It was what he did with a plastic bag to turn it into a football jersey. Murtaza gathered an Argentine coloured (white and blue striped) plastic, scribbled the name ‘Messi’ and his number on the back and was photographed playing football.

The internet, staying true to its nature, went “aww…” over it as it does over every good looking chaiwala or senseless kitten posts and dubbed Murtaza as Messi’s ‘fan number 1’. However, after a few click bait headlines and thousand page views, the story should’ve ended there.

It didn’t.

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Murtaza was tracked down and last night, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, made his dream come true.

Murtaza met Lionel Messi.

Not only did he meet him, he walked on to the pitch with him, hugged him and refused to let him go. It was Murtaza’s night and Messi and his Barcelona colleagues played second fiddle to perfection.

The video, as expected, went viral and it brought a smile on everyone’s face. But more than its virality, the video re-established the power that sport possesses and how it can touch people’s lives.

But it’s a difficult time to be a fan. Especially, a football fan. Trust me, under the glamour of the Premier League, the dark underbelly of football makes for a terrible reading.

Don’t believe me? I didn’t believe it either.

Till last October, football, for me, meant the footballing elite of Europe. Then, I came to know about clubs in Eastern Europe who fail to pay the salaries of their players. I came to know about clubs in the ‘stan region where players are made to sign contracts under duress.

Football has changed. It has changed too much, too quickly. Money has become the driving factor and that has taken away the simple pleasures of the sport.

Nowadays, everyone wants to make money. Nothing wrong in it. The football economy should grow every year but it shouldn’t take away the sheer joy of a sensational first touch. Players should earn more money. Nothing wrong in it. But their agents shouldn’t hold their clubs to ransom. Big money transfers should happen. Nothing wrong in it. But that shouldn’t deter a fan from being a student of the game and get lost in the clamour.

I came to study football business because I wanted to know more. But after the last couple of months, I think ignorance was bliss for me.

I have started looking at the game differently. Now, a late substitution makes me smirk – more appearance fee, I think. Every Anthony Martial goal means more bonus money for Monaco and every Alexis step-over is one more zero added at the end of his contract.

The more you know the bigger cynic you become.

Last night, Murtaza fulfilled his biggest dream. He also washed away my cynicism. His warm hug to Messi reminded me why I started watching the game and Messi’s candid behaviour re-ignited the magic of being an illogical fan that I really am. A fan who can’t do anything but worship his heroes. A fan who can’t do anything but support his ‘loser’ team. A fan who can’t do anything but dream.

And boy, dreams do come true.

Winning is great but is it enough?

nico

Finally, Lewis can be the prom queen.

What Nico Rosberg did this season requires immense talent, perseverance and hard work. He made the title his own when everyone stacked their chips on his  much decorated colleague/competitor.

He defied the odds. He won.

Then, he quit.

The world was shocked. Tweets of ‘Oh Nico, why so soon?’ poured in but his decision shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

He did exactly what he has done over the years – play a safe hand.

Make no mistake; he’s a fabulous driver – one of the best around. He tight with his team, knows his car, got skills and this season, fought his guts out to put Lewis Hamilton, a much faster driver, in his shadows.

But he always missed an extra gear. Both on-the-track and off it.

He retired for the right reasons though. He said, “I’m following my heart. My heart is telling me this.”

It’s important to ‘follow your heart’ in sport. Because if you didn’t, you won’t be in sport anyway.

But that statement was for fans who romanticise the ‘quit when you’re at the top’ concept.

‘Retiring on top’ is the most boring cliché in sport. If it was so appealing Roger Federer wouldn’t have stuck around for number 18. Diego Maradona would have hung up his boots after 1986. Sachin Tendulkar would have waved goodbye after 2011. Michael Jordan wouldn’t have made god knows how many comebacks and Michael Phelps would have never bothered about his 23rd Olympic Gold.

Every athlete longs for a fairy tale ending. But the great ones desire a scrap — a fight so dirty that it demands them to strip off their aura and makes them go through the wall. Again.

The greats don’t walk away easy, they go another round. And then, another. They keep pushing the bar higher because just being the best isn’t good enough for them. They want more. They want more because of an insatiable hunger for being at the top. They want to stay there and hold on to their top seat until the last sinew in their body snaps.

Even when their skills and physical ability starts to give up on them, they refuse to give in. They double the odds and go all in to try one last time. It’s what makes a sportsperson so different — the ability to believe that things will work out.

It brings them criticism. They are written off. Their legacy threatened. Their glorious past questioned. But they don’t stop. They don’t until they have gone that one more round.

Rosberg took 11 painful years to climb the summit. This season, he pushed his limits and won.

But when was winning enough?

May be for him it was. May be, he didn’t want another dirty fight. Rosberg knew he wasn’t the fastest and next season, he would be up against a wounded Hamilton and a hungry Max Verstappen.

He did the intelligent thing.

Rosberg is one of the likeable sportsmen around. Down to earth and always with a smile lurking. Even during the ‘Lewis pressers’, he managed to hold his poise. He hardly went overboard both on and off-the-track. His anger was measured. His frustrations were measured. Even his celebrations had little madness about them.

No wonder, Rosberg didn’t want to start again. He wanted to leave as the champion.

Hence, he walked away. Sadly, so did greatness…Away from him.