The adventures of the Messi gang
The ‘87 generation of Newell’s made history for their achievements and for having the best player in the planet. How is life for them now and how they remember that time.
Bruno let them know that he was going to play at the road with the boys. “Go, go” his mom allowed, as she was in charge of them. They went out with the ball, and played until, very thirsty, they wanted to buy Coca-Colas. They didn’t have any money, but –because that had happened before– they knew how to get it. They were in a corner, with the red lights, when a 9 year old Leo, started juggling the ball in front of the cars while Lucas asked for coins to the drivers. When Bruno’s mom saw them, she went out really mad. “She wanted to kill us!”, laughing, Bruno Milanesio said to PERFIL newspaper. “The ball was bigger than Leo”, also laughing, Lucas Scaglia adds. The juggler was Lionel Messi, That is just one of the adventures that Newell’s youth team lived. That one known as Cebollitas de Messi.
The life of the party. It was always like that: to be able to buy Coca-Colas, the boys had to get money. One day, before a Mundialito between the provinces to be played in Arteaga, one hundred kms. away from Rosario, the boys, who were staying in a guesthouse, went out to the street to ask for coins. It was raining and very muddy. But they didn’t care. “Ma'am, a little coin, please”, asked, a smiley Messi. That day, they were able to buy 52 Coca-Colas. “Leo was the cheekiest”, Gerardo Grighini, right back of the team, defines him.
It also rained the day of the goodbye to Gerardo Martino from Newell’s. It was the summer of '96. During the half-time, the Newell’s boys went around the pitch to celebrate: as usual, they had just become champions of their league. Suddenly, the boys stopped in the center of the pitch, formed a circle and pushed Leo to the center. “The public went mad”, defense and left back of the team, Franco Casanova remembers. “Maradó, Maradó!!” the people chanted while Messi juggled the ball.
Casanova also shares another anecdote: “We were traveling, away in Peru, and the players on the pitch challenged Leo 'If you juggle the ball one hundred times, we’ll give you stuff’. And Leo went and did it: so he came back with a bag full of gifts: jerseys, caps…”. Another: Casanova had just gotten a new bycicle and Messi, who was staying for a sleepover at his house, asked him to borrow it so he could ride it around the block. “Ok, you can borrow it”, Casanova told him. “But come with me”, Messi begged him. “No, no, I’m not going”, the other answered. Messi, very angry, went out alone but he wasn’t back, and he wasn’t back, and he wasn’t back. “The whole neighborhood went out to look for him"–: my parents, the neighbors, everybody. I was crying because Leo wasn’t anywhere. We found him far away: he was like eight blocks away from his house, crying because he was lost.”
“He was very cheeky”, Federico Rosso laughs all the way from Italy, where he plays at Brescia, in Serie B. “On and off the pitch” –adds–: before playing at Newell’s, I played for other team, and when we were about to face each other, we always asked ourselves how we were gonna stop the little kid. Leo was already a great player, and he always did what he wanted on the pitch". Scaglia, –one of Messi’s best friends even today and cousin of his girlfriend, Antonella Roccuzzo– tells PERFIL from Colombia, where he plays for Once Caldas: “Leo was a lot of fun within the group. And we were very close friends in that Newell’s team. We always moved all together: to the house of one, to the house of the other”. Mlanesio explains: “It’s just, while some boys had friends from school, we had our friends from the team”. Milanesio, who plays now at Central Córdoba de Rosario, comes from Girona, in the Segunda División in Spain. The city is one hundred kms. away from Barcelona, but Milanesio did not want to visit Messi there: “I don’t know… I guess I didn’t want to bother him… though indeed, I did go to see him play”.
The Dream Team. Grighini highlights: “Off the pitch we was a son of a bitch, but in a good way. And on the pitch he was terrific: he got the ball and could pass all the rivals if he wanted to. Once, during a clásico against Rosario Central, he chipped the ball five times over the same boy, and the dad from the stands was yelling at the poor guy: 'Kill him! Kill-him!’”. For Emanuel Correa, who plays now for Tiro Suizo in Rosario and works in a meat processing plant in Villa Gobernador Galvez, “Leo was already different: he had that dribbling, that speed, that control over the ball…”.
But that Newell’s team Generation 1987 didn’t rely only on Messi. “We won everything we played for: Leguizamón, the goalkeeper, didn’t touch the ball during the games”, tells PERFIL the team’s number nine, Diego Rovira, who’s back from playing at Sweden’s Second Division, at Alafors IF, but who, “because nothing went his way”, left football: he’s in his last year of college studying Administration. (Brief note: Rovira also tells that Messi had him owned: there was no time when he didn’t hide his shoes before matches.) Leguizamón, who’s the goalkeeper of Central Córdoba de Rosario, admits to PERFIL: “Yes, it’s true that in many games I got bored, almost every game, because we always won 6-0 or 7-0, and nobody came near my goal”.
— Was it that much?
—Yes. Just imagine this: I used to sit down in my goal during the games.
Casanova adds: “We knew each other since we were very little, we were all friends and, also, we played very well”. Milanesio says: “We went two and a half years without losing. Once, half the team was sick and injured, and we went to play against Tiro Suizo. We lost 2-0, and the local radio stations we calling the boys of Tiro Suizo because they had beaten us! Can you believe that? They called them instead of us that had had a winning streak of two and a half years!”. Rosso adds: “We won everything, absolutely everything we played for. There was Leo of course, but we were there with him, and we did well”.
But Messi —the boys are not dumb— was Messi. “We were —Leguizamón tells— about to play a semifinal against Central at Club Deportivo Rosario, and Leo wasn’t coming and he wasn’t coming and he wasn’t coming. It was a Clásico and Leo wasn’t coming! 'Where is he, where is he?’ The thing is that at half-time they were winning 2-0. When the second time was about to start, we saw him arrive. He quickly signed the list and went in. The story of that game is that we won 3-2, with a Leo hat-trick. Later we asked him what had happened and he told us that he was alone in his house and that he accidentally locked himself in the bathroom, so to get out and get to the game, he broke the window in the bathroom’s door, and ran out to look for his dad to get him to the game.
The one person who didn’t know how essential Messi was for that Newell’s youth team was Elda, Milanesio’s grandmother. She was about to find out an afternoon at Club Trébol, when she saw his grandson very upset, dejected. "Leo twisted his ankle and he won’t be able to play the final tomorrow”, a resigned Milanesio told her. Elda, who was a healer, asked him the name of the boy. “Leo, Leo Messi”, answered her grandson. “My grandmother, —Milanesio says— never wanted to tell me what she did, and I didn’t want to tell Leo that my grandmother had… well, that she had healed him… but the next morning, Leo woke up as if nothing, his ankle wasn’t swollen anymore. He played and we became champions.”
Years later, Milanesio was at Elda’s: Messi was on tv, already playing for Barcelona. “Grandma, you remember him?”, he asked her. When his grandmother told him no, not at all, Milanesio reminded her. Elda is now 89 years old and lives in Carlos Pellegrini, a town with a population of five thousand in Santa Fe province. She doesn’t care about football and doesn’t even know that his grandson plays in Central Córdoba. But when she sees Messi on tv, she smiles and brags: “That boy… Once I healed that boy”.