Afghanistan's 'Little Messi' Forced To Flee Ahead Of Taliban Offensive
Lionel Messi had gifted Murtaza with an autographed jersey.
Lionel Messi's fan Murtaza Ahmadi, the Afghan kid who once made headlines with his picture sporting a makeshift No.10 jersey of the Argentinian footballer, is now forced to live a nightmare due to the ongoing war in south-central Asia. Seven-year-old Murtaza Ahmadi left his home in Ghazni in November, along with his family and hundreds of others from the neighbourhood. The young football fan had moved the world with his love for Messi in 2016, who later met Murtaza and gifted him an autographed jersey.
Many of the Afghans are fleeing intense fighting after the Taliban launched an offensive in the previously safe area. Now Murtaza's family is among the thousands of similarly uprooted people struggling to get by in Kabul, and also living with the fear that the Taliban are hunting for their famous son.
The image of Murtaza sporting a Messi jersey, made of a blue and white striped plastic bag and with Messi's name and famous number 10 written carefully on the back in felt-tip pen, flooded media and social networks in 2016.
The media hype drew the football superstar's attention, and that year Murtaza met his idol in Qatar, where he walked out onto the pitch clutching Messi's hand as a mascot for a Barcelona friendly.
Messi, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, also gave his tiny fan an autographed jersey and a football.
But the moment of happiness has quickly dissipated.
AFP met with the family recently in the cramped room in Kabul they are renting from another impoverished family, where Murtaza's mother Shafiqa told how they had fled their home district of Jaghori in the night after hearing gunshots.
The fear felt by the Ahmadi family was ratcheted up when they learned that the Taliban were searching for the small Murtaza by name.
"(They) said if they capture him, they will cut him into pieces," Shafiqa said, her eyes horrified.
Shafiqa said she hid her famous son's face with a scarf to prevent him from being recognised as they fled.
They took refuge first in a mosque in Bamiyan, before arriving in Kabul six days later. Among their belongings left behind are the football and jersey signed by Messi.
Little Murtaza, meanwhile, says he misses his football and his jersey from Messi.
"I want them back so I can play," he told AFP.
"I miss Messi," he added.
"When I meet him, I will say, 'Salaam' and 'How are you?' Then he will reply saying thank you and be safe, and I will go with him to the pitch where he will play and I will watch him."
(With AFP inputs)