Lionel Messi

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Messi’s hometown offers emotional trip to his childhood

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ROSARIO, Argentina — Soccer wasn’t always Lionel Messi’s favorite activity.

When he was a child in the modest neighborhood of La Bajada in his Argentine hometown of Rosario, he spent his time bicycling with friends, building forts out of branches and stones, playing hide and seek – and occasionally stealing lemons from a neighbor to make juice.

Those stories and others are the focus of a new tour being offered by Rosario to celebrate their 32-year-old hometown hero, an international sports superstar who just won an unprecedented sixth Golden Ball as world soccer’s player of the year.

The tour put together by Rosario’s city hall is free of charge and available in an app translated into several languages, guiding fans through 10 stops.

Few houses are higher than two stories in La Bajada, a middle-class neighborhood in the city that is 186 miles (300 kilometers) northwest of Buenos Aires.

Halfway down Israel street stands a gray house, closed off by shut curtains and protected by railings. There is no sign outside indicating it was Messi’s home, and no one lives there now, though it still belongs to his family.

The neighbors aren’t so shy about the Messi connection, however. Colorful paintings dedicated to the soccer star stand in front of houses and there are sidewalks colored in the blue and white of Argentina’s national team with Messi’s jersey number, 10, painted in black.

Messi’s neighbors and friends are often willing to share stories with visitors.

“Leo was normal and ordinary like other people here,” Diego Vallejos, one of Messi’s childhood friends, told The Associated Press on a sandy soccer field of the El Campito club as three youngsters played soccer.

“We fell, we scratched ourselves riding bikes. We went to the street with water bombs and threw them at buses,” said Vallejos, who is one year older than Messi.

Also are on the tour are the school Messi attended and the Abanderado Grandoli club, where he learned his first soccer moves.

The city long had a somewhat distant relationship with Messi, and officials say the tour seeks to change that. Rosario’s city hall said Messi’s family did not take part in the creation of the tour.

“What we want to emphasize is that Leo is a product of his city, and that there is a life and many stories behind the superstar,” said Santiago Valenti with Rosario’s tourism agency.

Messi was born June 24, 1987, in the Hospital Italiano Garibaldi in Rosario. He lived in the city until 2000, when he moved to Barcelona.

A recently opened sports museum, a few blocks from Messi’s old house, offers an interactive tour of the lives of local stars in racing, boxing, basketball and soccer.

Messi’s section of the museum is introduced by a painting that mixes monuments from Rosario and Barcelona, and the sentence: “All that I did, I did for soccer.” Two giant screens display goals and testimonials from his teammates.

“The idea is not to pay a tribute to his sporting success,” said museum coordinator Juan Echeverría. “It is to value the path he walked, everything that an athlete has to go through to get to the tip of the iceberg that we see when he is on the podium.”

The museum has contacted Messi’s family and the player’s father said he would donate more memorabilia.

One of items on display is a small red coat with a white collar. Below it is Messi’s official register as a Newell’s Old Boys academy player and a picture of him smiling.

Downtown is the Malvinas compound where Newell’s has its soccer academy. It was there the young Messi was filmed out-dribbling much bigger opponents.

“This is where it all started,” said Lisandro Conte, an employee at the academy.

Messi did not play for Newell’s. “At that time there were players who looked more promising, and the bet was placed on them,” Conte said.

Still, Messi has said he wants to finish his career at Newell’s, playing for his hometown club in his own country after a professional career in Barcelona’s storied Spanish league team.

Fans visiting Rosario might even be able to catch a match between teams like the recent clash between Newell’s and arch-rival Rosario Central. Among the 14 youngsters chasing the ball might be Rosario’s next star.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

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Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

How the world reacted to Messi’s 6th Ballon d’Or

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It wasn’t a massive shock, especially with Cristiano Ronaldo not in attendance, but Lionel Messi picked up his sixth Ballon d’Or award from France Football on Monday evening.

Even if not a surprise, it’s still incredibly impressive. It’s Messi’s first Ballon d’Or since 2015 and at age 32, he’s looking as strong, quick, and incredible as ever. For a player on the wrong side of 30 to take his game back to a superstar level is incredible, and it had folks thinking nostalgic.

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Here’s a sample of some of the reaction to Messi’s win on social media:

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😍 Felicidades @leomessi 🌟

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Messi wins 6th Ballon d’Or

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Lionel Messi is back on top.

For the sixth time, the hosts at France Football’s end-of-year awards ceremonies read out Messi’s name as the winner of the Ballon d’Or. The 2019 award is Messi’s first since 2015. Since the the award was won by Cristiano Ronaldo twice and Luka Modric last year after guiding Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final.

So far this season, Messi has scored 14 goals to go with eight assists for Barcelona in all competitions. Last season however, Messi returned to his dominance, leading La Liga with 36 goals and scoring a total of 48 between the league and the UEFA Champions League. He also had 16 assists between both leagues.

Also honored on Monday evening was the winners of the Best Young Player and the Best Goalkeeper, a new award.

The goalkeeping award, named after the Soviet great Lev Yashin, went to Liverpool’s Alisson Becker. The Brazilian goalkeeper backstopped Liverpool in his first season in England to second place in the Premier League and the 2019 UEFA Champions League title. He’s recorded 21 clean sheets in 45 Premier League appearances so far.

Matthijs de Ligt, the former Ajax star who led his team to back to back Champions League semifinals, was named the Best Young Player by France Football. Now with Juventus, de Ligt is part of a superstar generation of young Dutch players who are looking to take their nation far at the 2020 Euros and beyond. De Ligt, at just 20-years old, still has many of his best years ahead of him.

The top ten in the final 2019 Ballon d’Or is as follows:

10. Riyad Mahrez, Man City

9. Bernardo Silva, Man City

8. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich

7. Alisson Becker, Liverpool

6. Kylian Mbappe, PSG

5. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool

4. Sadie Mane, Liverpool

3. Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus

2. Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool

1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona

Ranking the top 10 Ballon d’Or contenders

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The Ballon d’Or will be awarded in Paris, France on Monday, as the top player on the planet in the last 12 months will be honored by France Football.

But who deserves the coveted title?

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are among the favorites once again, as one or the other won this award for 10 years on the trot with five each, but Luka Modric broke up their monopoly after being crowned the best player on the planet in 2018.

Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk is among the favorites given his transformative arrival at Anfield to take Jurgen Klopp‘s side to European glory last season and so close to a first Premier League title, while the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Sadio Mane and Raheem Sterling are all leading contenders too.

But all eyes will be on Messi (the bookmakers favorite), Ronaldo and Van Dijk as the Argentine star was named FIFA’s Best Player of the Year, VVD won UEFA’s top player and both times Ronaldo came up short.

Below is a look at our ranking of the top 10 candidates (from the 30-man shortlist) as the winner will be announced later on Monday.

Feel free to add your thoughts and let us know who you think deserves to win the award in the comments section below.


10. Eden Hazard: A very decent season with Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri and led Belgium to top spot in the world rankings. His start at Real Madrid hasn’t been that impressive, but we know the quality he has and injuries have started to build up.

9. Roberto Lewandowski: A simply amazing start to the 2019-20 season for club and country has pushed Lewandowski higher up the list. He’s led Poland to EURO 2020 and made sure Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga last season despite all of their struggles. The best central striker on the planet? Quite possibly.

8. Bernardo Silva: What an incredible 12 months the Portuguese playmaker has had. Silva has taken his game to a totally new level and he was key in Man City winning the PL title last season, and Portugal winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League trophy.

7. Alisson: Alongside Virgil van Dijk the Brazilian goalkeeper has transformed Liverpool’s defensive unit. He doesn’t have a weakness and is so good with the ball at his feet. Alisson came up big throughout their UCL run and his injury at the start of this season proved how much they need him.

6. Kylian Mbappe: It is amazing to think he is only 21 years old. Mbappe carried PSG to the French title last season while Neymar was out injured and he is France’s leading light as they aim for EURO 2020 glory this summer. He continues to get better each and every month.

5. Sadio Mane: So often the player in Liverpool’s side who was under appreciated, that is no longer the case for Mane. This season he leads the team in goals with 12 as Salah battles through injury. Mane is clutch and always delivers when Liverpool need him most.

4. Raheem Sterling: Talking about delivering, Raheem Sterling’s incredible consistency has seen him move close to breaking into the top three in the world conversation. He has finally found composure in front of goal and the Man City and England star has scored 15 goals for City this season and eight goals in nine games in 2019 for the Three Lions. 12 months from now it feels like Sterling will be pushing hard for the Ballon d’Or.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo: Another country, another team, another title. Cristiano Ronaldo is a machine and led Juventus to the Serie A title last season as well as Portugal to the Nations League trophy. He is a serial winner but there has been a few signs of his production slowing down. Still, he is in the top three.

2. Lionel Messi: He may well win the award a secure a record sixth Ballon d’Or and recent displays will probably seal it if he does. Barcelona won La Liga and he has been at his wizard-like best for most of the last 12 months, but there have been blips like they UCL semifinal defeat at Liverpool and his meltdown for Argentina against Chile. Messi is undoubtedly the GOAT, but don’t be surprised if he’s pipped at the post to this award.

1. Virgil van Dijk: Okay, here me out here. Virgil van Dijk is a towering giant and on his own he has not only transformed Liverpool defensively but also their mentality into a winning team too. He has also done that for the Netherlands as they’ve been totally transformed under Ronald Koeman and it’s hard to remember a defensive player having such a big impact for club and country over a 12-month period. VVD is a born leader and he deserves to win this award. Messi may win it, but Van Dijk deserves it.