Real Madrid’s Goalkeeper KEYLOR NAVAS and Marianno Lugo. Pictured in Valencia, Spain. August 2014. Copyright. M.A. Lugo @marklugo

The Day My Son Almost Met Leo Messi, But Almost Got Ran Over Instead.

Today’s stars forgot they were once kids too.

After driving almost 12,000 kilometers around Spain and France for the summer holiday it was time to head back to our current hometown Barcelona.

It was my son Marianno’s seventh birthday. Like every other kid turning seven, he had several birthday wishes. One of them included getting a pair of officially worn goalkeeper gloves. That wish came true when Manu Herrara, a player for Elche Football Club, without question kept his promise.

During the early part of July, we stopped by the Elche practice. After a few minutes of chatting with Herrera, my son explained to the goalkeeper that he wanted a pair of officially worn goalkeeper gloves for his upcoming birthday. Herrera told my son to come back after July 20. He may have been joking. But, my son took him serious.

And although Elche is almost 550 kilometers from home, I kept my promise and returned to Elche on August 8. Again, we stopped by the club’s practice and spoke with Herrera. He remembered my son and made reference to his curly hair just like the first time he met Marianno. My son, being the overly pushy salesman, kept telling Herrera that he promised to give him the gloves after July 20. For whatever reason, Herrera kept trying to get out of his promise. Then, my son said “Hey, you promised and my birthday is in a couple of days”, he explained. That when I chimed in, “I drove about 500 kilometers to get here”. Before I could finish, Herrera looked at my son and said, “Here you go. Happy birthday!” I was as surprised as my son. My son was breathless. I wasn’t breathless but I was taken by the fact that professional athletes can still be good human people with hearts for their fans.

Let’s fast forward to Barcelona. The next stop on our birthday wish trail. The Cuidad Deportiva, the place where the world famous Football Club (FC) Barcelona trains most of the time. A few months back we were lucky to meet Gerard Pique at the training center. He wasn’t very talkative but did offer autographs and photos.

But this time, my son was there hoping to grab the signatures of Messi, Neymar Jr, Dani Aviles and Andres Iniesta. We arrived early and were among the very first people outside the training center. I respectfully walked to the security guard on duty and asked if the player would be coming to the training center today. He was rather rude and had a pretty nasty attitude. I wished him a good day and went back to sit in the car. About 30 minutes later, other kids and parents started to show up at the training center. So again, I started asking questions. They all seemed to know that the players started arriving anywhere after 8am. Most of them sat on the curb on the main street by the main entrance to the facility. The head coach, Luis Enrique showed up and stop for autographs and photos. No problem.

It wasn’t until about 8:10 that the cream of the crop started driving in. We saw a few of the more familiar players driving in. None of which stopped. The kids, like my son, were waiting to see the star players. The other kids were a bit older and defended themselves a bit better than my son. The kids moved into the street to get a better glimpse of the players who almost purposely avoided the fans at all cost. Most of the kids knew who was coming by the kind of car or SUV.

This is when I heard loud voices shouting, “!Aqui viene Messi!”

I saw a big black Range Rover with tinted out windows, chromed out rims and everything that roared out, “HERE COMES MESSI.”

This is when I heard loud voices shouting, “!Aqui viene Messi!” I saw a big black Range Rover with the tinted out windows, chromed out rims and everything that roared out, HERE I COME. The kids rushed into the street. I thought to myself Messi will stop and at least greet the kids and keep going. Boy was I wrong. The Range Rover engine roared higher and higher. At this point, Messi was coming up on a curve that led into the service road of the main road that leads into the sports facility. The older kids stood directly in the street. Messi black Range Rover came faster and faster towards them. My wife looked in horror…then looked away. Messi wasn’t going to stop. In fact, he was speeding up and inching closer and closer the kids in the street. Messi never applied the breaks and the kids jumped out of the street like an action movie. The older kid, about 16 years old, was pale white. Messi drove pass them and curse them with a very mean look. I thought is this the same Messi that tries to sell Adidas to his fans with the nice smile. I was here for my son. I didn’t expect much from Messi or the other star players. But I never expected this from Leo Messi. He was willing to run down some children who wanted his autograph? His fans? I know perhaps he was running late for “work”, which makes it alright to run over your fans, I suppose.

During the next few minutes a few more star players arrived at the facility. All of which had a special entry trademark. Dani Aviles drove his bright red Audi station wagon with Brazilian music blasting…and Neymar Jr. arrived in his convertible VW Bug waving gang signs.

These are the stars of today. These were once the kids of yesterday who wished they could meet a football star of two. Have these stars forgotten they were once children too?

A few days later we went down to Valencia to meet with (Costa Rica) Real Madrid’s newest goalkeeper, Keylor Navas. Keylor made my son feel like home again. Needless to say, my son forgot about Messi and his poor driving habits. Pura vida!

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