BARCELONA — From posing for selfies to enjoying seafront meals and taking his children to bouncy castles, Lionel Messi's down-to-earth existence won him the admiration of many locals in his longtime hometown Barcelona.
Messi bade a tearful farewell to FC Barcelona on Sunday, preparing to find a new life away from the Castelldefels suburb where he lived a peaceful, homely existence.
The multi-millionaire Argentine, with the club for 21 years, has often been spotted dining with his wife Antonella Roccuzzo in beachside bars or taking their three children to bouncy castles. He would pose for photos with locals.
When Messi suffered an injury five years ago that stopped him playing for weeks, local resident Andy Tomlinson said he jokingly offered Messi another job and the superstar played along.
"When Messi hurt his leg, I said it must be a worry that he could not do his job but I said I had a job which only required him to assemble stuff with his hands," said Tomlinson, 47, a Briton who runs a business making instruments to measure light intensity.
"He smiled and said 'maybe another time'."
'MESSI WAVED TO ME'
Maxim Papais, 11, said he would often see Messi as he walked home from school and the pair would wave to each other.
"I will always remember Messi as this famous footballer who used to wave to me," he said.
The player was often seen doing the school run, going out to buy bread or enjoying local Argentine restaurants.
"He comes to eat here often or buys our meat to have a dinner at his home," said Dani Iza, manager of La Pampa.
Messi, 34, told a press conference on Sunday that he had "grown up in the club and I became the man I am here".
Barcelona said it had to let him go because the Argentine's deal would have taken salaries to 110 percent of the club's earnings, even after he agreed to a 50 percent pay cut.
The club said this would jeopardise its future given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to comply with the financial rules of Spain's La Liga competition.
(Reporting by Graham Keeley Editing by Frances Kerry)