Afghan boy replaces plastic-bag Lionel Messi jersey with the real thing

An Afghan boy received a signed jersey from Lionel Messi after the internet found photos of the five-year-old wearing a plastic bag with the soccer star's name on the back.

Soccer star donates a signed jersey after a photo of the boy wearing plastic goes viral

On Feb. 25, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund posted new photos of Murtaza Ahmadi with an actual Lionel Messi soccer jersey, instead of the pieces of plastic tied together. (Mahdy Mehraeen/UNICEF)

An Afghan boy has received a signed jersey from Lionel Messi thanks to internet sleuths, who found photos of the five-year-old wearing a plastic bag with the Argentine soccer star's name on the back.

A photo of Murtaza Ahmadi wearing a blue and white striped bag as a soccer jersey shot around the web back in mid-January. The bag had "Messi" and the player's number, 10,  written on the back. It was also patterned like the Argentina World Cup jersey. 

The photo first became popular when a fan account for Messi, who plays for FC Barcelona, posted it on its Twitter feed, although the tweet incorrectly said that Murtaza was from Iraq, not Afghanistan.

As photos of the boy spread, many set out to find who he was.

BBC Trending caught up with the boy's uncle, Azim, in Australia, who pointed them to Ahmadi's father Arif in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan. 

It turned out that the boy's eldest brother, Hamayon Ahmadi, had sewn the shirt together from plastic bags. He'd also been the one to first post the photos on Facebook.

The five-year-old had asked his father for a Messi jersey after watching him on TV, but his father had told him that it was impossible. Not only couldn't he afford one, they lived too far away from a city to even find a jersey. 

"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. He stopped crying after wearing that plastic bag shirt," the boy's father told CNN. 

Then on Feb. 25 the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund posted new photos of Ahmadi with an actual Messi jersey.

"I love Messi and my shirt says Messi loves me," Ahmadi said to UNICEF.

Lionel Messi, who is also a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, provided multiple signed jerseys for the family. (Mahdy Mehraeen/UNICEF/Facebook)

Messi, who is also a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, provided multiple signed jerseys, according to the BBC, and a soccer ball.

UNICEF said that the initiative between their Afghanistan and Argentina divisions was part of a campaign to reach 43 million children trapped in similar circumstances as the five-year-old.

"The whole people in the world know me now," Ahmadi said to CNN. His father only wished Messi could have come to Afghanistan to give the gifts in person.

As for why Ahmadi¬†might be a big Messi fan, the Argentine was named the best soccer player in the world with the FIFA¬†Ballon d'Or¬†award¬†this year. This was¬†his fifth time winning the prize¬†‚Ästmore than any other¬†player in history.¬†

Messi can also shoot a soccer ball into a net while standing on the other side of it. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?