Meet the other Lionel Messi: An 11-year-old who plays for São Paulo

Lionel Messi had just won his fourth FIFA Ballon d’Or in Jan. 2013 in Switzerland when the son of Eduardo Aparecido Ney da Silva was born a few days later in Campinas, in the countryside of São Paulo, Brazil. Two events that, although seemingly distant, are related.

This relationship became even more curious in Feb. 2013 when the 11-year-old boy appeared on the Daily Informative Bulletin (BID) of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), the site that reunites the official athletes of a club, registered for “sporting initiation” as a São Paulo player. His name? Lionel Messi da Silva.

ESPN Brazil traveled to Paulínia, a town near Campinas, to find out more about the origins of “Messinho” (Little Messi), as the young Brazilian has been nicknamed. He has been with São Paulo since Feb. 2022 and his time is split between the pitch and futsal competitions with the Brazilian club.

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His father, Eduardo, is to “blame” for the choice of the name. Passionate about football and a Messi fan, he even overlooked the mother’s consent to christen his son. “I am a dreamer, a father who loves football. My wife already had the name in mind, but in my mind, it was Lionel Messi da Silva. She wanted to jump out of the hospital bed, but then she accepted it well. Today, she loves her son’s name,” he told ESPN.

Little Lionel, meanwhile, didn’t realize how important his name was until he was seven years old. He was watching a Barcelona game against Atletico Madrid when the player wearing the Catalan club’s number 10 scored a goal. “I was watching a Barcelona game and I saw a player with my name,” says Messi. “I asked my father and he told me everything.”

Back then, Eduardo already saw talent in his son to maybe follow the same career path as the more famous Messi. By the time Lionel was five years old, his father saw his son with a knack for striking the ball and enrolled him in Ronaldo Fenômeno’s R9 academy, where he stayed for eight months.

Lionel Messi da Silva progressed and his father took him to other schools, first to Ponte Preta and then to São Paulo. “He trained on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. I saw him develop and I became enthusiastic and invested more and more in him.”

At the age of nine, Lionel joined São Paulo’s youth team. Eduardo is self-employed, as he spends most of his time accompanying his son to training and matches. “I have two dreams. One is for him to play for São Paulo as a professional athlete. The other is for him to meet Messi. That’s all, I don’t want anything else,” he told the reporter.

If he follows his “namesake”, of course, Messi has the road to success already paved. But his footballing inspirations go beyond the Argentinian: the São Paulo gem is also an admirer of Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City, Luka Modric of Real Madrid, and even Cristiano Ronaldo, the so-called “rival” of Argentina’s Lionel.

“I liked Cristiano Ronaldo more. The way he trains, the way he is focused and hits the ball. I like watching him play, but today I prefer Messi,” reveals the boy, a midfielder and official free-kick taker for São Paulo’s U-11 team.

Despite his young age, the aspiring player already has some good stories to tell. One of the goals he scored for São Paulo, for example, sticks in his mind. “It was against Red Bull Bragantino in the quarter-finals of the Iber Cup 2023. We were losing 1-0, but I scored the equalizer from a free kick, and then the winning goal. It made me want to cry.”

Moments like these make his father Eduardo dream of seeing his son one day wearing the Brazilian national team shirt. But, of course, the road is long and, until then, he has his feet on the ground.

“I haven’t thought about it yet, I’ll let it happen. He’s still 11 years old and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. There are a lot of people who are phenomenal at 11, but when they get to 14, 15, their performance dips and the club throws them out,” he explained.

Still in the São Paulo youth academy, Lionel Messi continues to train at the club’s school in Paulínia. Allan Rodrigo Martins Freire, a teacher at the school, has been following the boy since he was five years old and has witnessed his qualities.

“He is a modern player, who attacks and defends. He knows how to play collectively, but he also knows when it’s time to play individually. He is very communicative and has all he needs to grow.”

Only time will tell if Lionel Messi da Silva will become a professional footballer or, who knows if he will even come close to the success of his Argentine namesake. The fact is that, at 11 years old, no one has a bigger name on the pitch or the court than the one chosen by his father, an admirer of the Inter Miami star.

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