A mother has said she was “humbled” after her 11-year-old son played football with football superstar Lionel Messi while on holiday in Antigua.
Anna O’Neill, from Canterbury, Kent, filmed her son Mackenzie playing with the Barcelona forward and three other children, including Messi’s son Thiago – who Mackenzie befriended during their stay at the private Caribbean resort.
“It was such a sweet experience,” Ms O’Neill told PA. “They’re just a very normal family.
“I know it’s terrible but I just thought, ‘oh here we go, another footballer’, but a million percent he’s just interested in his family and it was really humbling.
“What a lovely thing for this guy to do – he’s on a family vacation.”
Ms O’Neill, 41, said she had been looking after her 14-month-old toddler in her room at a private Caribbean resort when her son rushed back to tell her the footballer was on the beach.
“I’m not a football fan at all, so when Mackenzie said, ‘oh my god, mum, Messi is on the beach’, I was just like, ‘who?’,” she said.
After messaging her brother and searching Messi’s name on Google, Ms O’Neill headed to the beach to see the Argentinian with her son and the other children, where they had been playing for around half an hour.
She said it was apparent Messi did not speak English but she asked for a photo of him with Mackenzie to which he said “yes, no problem”, before she “left them to it” playing football.
Mackenzie said a man he believed was the 32-year-old player’s father Jorge had asked him if he would like to play.
He said they played a “full-on match” with “rush goalies” on the sand, with Messi and his son on one team, adding it was difficult to take the ball off the professional as he “just had a lot of skill” and that six-year-old Thiago was “really good for his age”.
“He was a really nice guy,” Mackenzie said of Messi. “He looked happy to see me playing with his son and some other boys.
“He doesn’t act like he owns the place, he just acts like what anyone else would act like.”
Mackenzie spent more time with Messi and his family over the coming days at the resort, often playing with English-speaking Thiago and travelling out with them to a pontoon on the sea.
Mackenzie said Messi’s wife Antonella Roccuzzo-Messi would often translate for her husband, adding Messi only knew “football clubs and stuff”.
Ms O’Neill, who was previously a model but now works in property development, said of Messi: “You can see he’s very much in love with his wife – it’s glorious to see.
“His wife is a very warm person and Messi definitely seemed confident and happy for Mackenzie to be hanging around with his family.
“As they left on their final day, Messi and his wife gave really lovely waves saying, ‘bye Mackenzie, bye’ and we all said thank you so much and cheerio.”
Mackenzie added Messi is his favourite outfield player, but that he prefers goalkeepers as he plays in goal for Faversham Strike Force FC.