What does a meeting between Jorge Messi, the father, and agent of Lionel Messi, and Josep Maria Bartomeu, the president of FC Barcelona, at the Catalan capital have to do with the laymen of the villages in Malappuram? Nothing discernible, but hundreds of them are waiting eagerly for the outcome of the meeting, checking twitter handles of Spanish and Portuguese journalists on their cheap smartphones.
They might not know the language but a string of translators are ready by their side. What cannot be denied is Kerala’s obsession with Messi. They have to know whether Lionel Messi would stick on to his decision to quit or if he will stay with FC Barcelona. They all are on the edge.
Football lovers across the state, especially in the Malappuram district, have been discussing about Lionel Messi ever since that fateful night when Barcelona lost terribly to Bayern Munich in the quarterfinal of the Uefa Champions League.
The chatter reached a high pitch on online Malayalam Barca and Messi forums after he sent a fax message to the club management saying he would like to quit. There are countless WhatsApp and Telegram groups and Facebook pages of Messi and FC Barcelona fans in Kerala.
T Subair, 39, a daily wage labourer and small-time farmer of Vazhakkad, is one of the hundreds of die-hard fans of Messi in Malappuram district alone. While Leo Messi has got a huge number of fan following in Kerala, the club, Barca, is also equally popular in the streets of this football-frenzied state.
“I am an Argentina fan and, by extension, a Messi fan, too. But, I think, Messi should not quit Barcelona. He is what he is now only because of this Spanish club. He was a kid with hormone deficiency or some condition like that. It was Barcelona that took care of him from a very early age. He owes them a lot. Even if his remuneration is reduced, he should continue playing with FCB,” says Subair.
He feels there are some problems with the club and its President Bartomeu.
“I can understand Messi’s issues with the management of the club. The president, Josep Bartomeu, is not that efficient, but it is said that Messi’s father Jorge has a very good relationship with him. So, I am hopeful that the issues will be solved in a day or two.”
Subair is also apprehensive of Messi’s prospects in the English Premier League.
“EPL is one of the leagues in the world where superlative football happens. At his age of 33-34, Messi might not be able to excel there. It is a fact that his friend and fellow country man Sergio Aguiro is there, but it would not be easy for him.”
Subair, who has studied only up to the tenth standard, is well updated about player transfers and other happenings at most football leagues around the world. He knows about Rakitic’s transfer and Suarez’s migration plans and he is concerned about FCB’s future.
“On the other hand, Barcelona, too, is not sitting pretty with (Ivan) Rakitic going to Sevilla and (Luis) Suarez all set to jump to Italian giants Juventus to play alongside Christiano (Ronald). They will have to retain Messi at any cost. The new manager, Koeman, too, would want that,” says Subair.
Subair, who became an Argentina fan at a very young age, has memories of watching football from the 1986 World Cup. His match analysis at a local tea stall after the Argentina- France quarterfinal game in the previous World Cup had made headlines in many of the regional channels. He had squarely blamed, with all the technical detailing of a football pundit, the Argentine defence line and Jorge Sampoli’s tactics for his favourite team’s 3-4 defeat and exit from the World Cup.
Muhsin Parari, the Malayalam film director and scriptwriter from Malappuram, is also a part of the Barca and Messi fanfare. Muhsin, who watches almost every Barca match, had in his debut film ‘KL-10 -10’, two village clubs named after Barcelona and Real Madrid. “I think a change would be good for Messi, and for Barca, too,” says Muhsin, who wrote the script for the recent hit films ‘Virus’ and ‘Sudani from Nigeria’. “I am not worried about Messi leaving Barca if his next choice is (Manchester) City.”
When it comes to soccer, everyone in Kerala — from a tea shop vendor to a celebrity filmmaker — has an opinion.