Murtaza Ahmadi, or “Little Messi,” went viral in 2016 for his love of soccer player Lionel Messi. That year, after the story caught Messi’s attention, the now-7-year old boy finally met his hero in Qatar.
In November, Ahmadi and his family were forced to flee their home in Afghanistan, alongside thousands of other families, as the Taliban launched an attack on the once-safe area, according to AFP News.
The family has since found refuge in Kabul, where they still fear that the Taliban is looking for their famous son.
A photo of Murtaza wearing a Messi Argentina jersey made out of a plastic bag went viral online in February 2016. When Murtaza met Messi, Murtaza was given the chance to walk out onto the pitch, while holding Messi’s hand. Messi gave Murtaza an autographed jersey and a football.
According to the UN, up to 4,000 families abandoned the Ghazni province as hundreds of civilians, soldiers, and insurgents were killed during the fighting.
Murtaza’s family had also found out that the Taliban were specifically looking for Murtaza. “[They] said if they capture him, they will cut him into pieces,” Murtaza’s mother Shafiqa told AFP. She covered Murtaza’s face with a scarf when they fled, and weren’t able to take any of their belongings, including the football and jersey signed by Messi.
“Local strongmen were calling and saying, ‘You have become rich, pay the money you have received from Messi or we will take your son,’” Shafiqa said. “At night we would sometimes see unknown men, watching and checking our house, and then the calls. During the days, we wouldn't dare let him outside home to play with other children.”
The family fled for the first time in 2016 due to Taliban threats, and sought refuge in Pakistan, but had to move back to Afghanistan after they ran out of money. This year alone, over 300,000 Afghans have had to escape their homes due to the violence, the UN reports.
But Murtaza is only thinking of his football and jersey from Messi. “I want them back so I can play,” he told AFP. “I miss Messi. When I meet him, I will say, ‘Salaam’ and ‘How are you?’ Then he will reply saying thank you and be safe, and I will go with him to the pitch where he will play and I will watch him.”