A seven-year-old Afghan boy, who met soccer idol Lionel Messi after going viral in 2016, was recently forced to flee his home with his family due to attacks by the Taliban.
According to Usman Sharifi of AFP News (h/t Yahoo Sports), Murtaza Ahmadi and his family fled from southeastern Ghazni province to Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul.
Ahmadi became well-known in internet circles when photos circulated of him wearing a homemade Messi Argentina jersey fashioned out of a plastic bag two years ago.
That led to Ahmadi meeting the Barcelona star and accompanying him onto the pitch for a friendly match in Qatar. He was also gifted an autographed jersey and soccer ball by Messi.
Ahmadi’s mother, Shafiqa, said she has been told the Taliban is specifically targeting her son due to the fame he enjoyed: “[They] said if they capture him, they will cut him into pieces.”
Ahmadi and his family had to leave all of their belongings upon fleeing, including the signed jersey and ball.
When asked about the items and Messi, Ahmadi said, “I want them back so I can play. I miss Messi.”
Ahmadi also expressed hope that he will meet Messi again one day: “When I meet him, I will say, ‘Salaam’ [a common greeting in Arabic] 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.”
Shafiqa told Sharifi that returning home is no longer an option for the family due to her son’s celebrity and the constant threat of the Taliban.