AC Milan’s unlikely rise of Junior Messias to the Champions League reminds us why we love the sport

It’s a story of the improbable, the kind of story that happens very rarely but just often enough to feed our wildest aspirations and make some sense of our existence.

It is the story of a young man who (as he admits) came home drunk in a rusty car the night of his brother’s wedding, flew off an unpaved road into the fields and lay in the mud, waiting to die or be saved.

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Of a child who dominated the village tournaments in the countryside near Sao Candidate in the state of Belo Horizonte in Brazil and a good day would be paid for in cases of beer, but when he made the giant leap into the big time – Cruzeiro’s academy, where the original Ronaldo made his debut – he realized he didn’t would not make the grade. After three seasons chasing a professional contract, on the eve of his 20th birthday, all he had to show was a place on the seventh level of the Brazilian football pyramid at a club called Ideal (which was everything but.)

From a man who realized, at 20, that football is great and fun, just like dreams, but with a young woman and a child reality bites and the bills have to be paid. And that’s how he emigrated to Italy, joining his brother, where his first job was – literally – polishing bricks salvaged from demolition sites for 20 cents a piece and his second delivering kitchen appliances (toasters on a good day, refrigerators on a bad day. )

From a guy who realized that working on construction sites, getting his hands dirty, going out in the open air and doing it to support his family is the height of fulfillment, more than playing football, which had become , as he puts it “a hobby, not a goal.” That said, when a team of fellow immigrant citizens, even from Peru, persuaded him to join their club, Sport Warique, in the Turin adult recreational leagues, he couldn’t say no.

From an undocumented economic migrant who, like most, knew his story would end in one of two ways: with a bureaucrat finding his application amid the backlog of cases, sending it to a judge and getting the green light to stay or with people in uniform knocking on his door. The day after he obtained his residence visa, he signed with Casale, a club at the fifth level of the Italian football pyramid. He was thrilled, but it must have made sense to him and his family, which is why he declined the club’s first offer and maintained a salary of € 1,500 per month, a little more than what he was making in. making deliveries.

From an evangelical Christian who, if these papers had not arrived, was ready to quit football – or, more precisely, his dimension of football at the time, stuff from the Turinese recreational league, playing with Peruvian waiters and factory workers – and instead devote his weekends and free time to preaching the Word of God. That he shared a pitch with Luis Suarez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic on television on Wednesday evenings rather than spending him knocking on doors and studying the Bible is because he asked God for a sign and, he says, he came in the form of that visa.

From a born again footballer who, at 24, returned to the system after four years of absence and climbed Italian football year after year: from fifth (Casale) to fourth (Chieri) to third (Gozzano) to second and first (Crotone) in the Champions League (AC Milan, which he joined this summer. And, Wednesday night, three minutes from time, his header beat Jan Oblak and Atletico Madrid, giving Milan a 1-0 away win which maintains their hopes of a place in the knockout stage. Of the 62 goals he has scored since returning to football, this is only the fourth time he has scored with his header.

From an attacking midfielder of a relegated side who signed for Milan on loan in August in the dying hours of the transfer window, largely because they needed an extra body on the bench and n had failed to land their best targets in this role. And, indeed, he had only played twice, for a total of 51 minutes, before leaving the bench on Wednesday with 25 minutes left.

This is the unlikely story of Junior Walter Messias and if you think it’s made up, I wouldn’t blame you. Heck, even his name sounds biblical. Corn Messias himself told the story not long ago. And you might have seen him yourself get up to meet Franck Kessie‘s cross and scores the winner for Milan.

It’s football. It’s sport. This is where the improbable lives and, from time to time, emerges from its hiding place to make us fall in love again.

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