Locals unimpressed in Lionel Messi's home town in Argentina

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The Independent Football

The catcalls once again rained down on the misfiring Lionel Messi as he failed to find the target against Colombia.

Messi drew a blank in South Africa 12 months ago and during this Copa America has appeared a shadow of the player who tore apart Manchester United at Wembley.

He is not the first player to struggle to recreate his club form at international level and the gutless management of Argentina boss Sergio Batista is not helping him one bit.

After soaking up yet more abuse from the Argentina crowd, it’s highly likely that Messi tucks himself in at night wearing Barcelona pyjamas. Argentina have now slipped to 3.05 to win Group A with paf.com.

Cries of “Pulga de mierda” and the old favourite “Messi no es Argentino” pierced the air at Colon de Santa Fe’s ground last night. The same question was on the lips of every Argentina fan. Is Messi really Argentinian?

The answer to this question can be found halfway between Santa Fe and Buenos Aires in the city of Rosario. Messi shares his hometown with Che Guevara, another Argentinian who did his best work overseas.

Penetrating Rosario’s south side the familiar sights associated with the origins of football greatness start to emerge. Tower blocks jutting out like teeth ready to gobble up life’s waives and strays, burned out Ford Falcons and an abundance of dog feces that forces you into an involuntary game of hopscotch.

In the middle of this pit of despair and depression Club Grandoli appears like an oasis. This is the pitch where Messi came as a four-year-old to first stroke the leather.

Across the road from the field sits an old timer out on his porch basking in the midday sun. Roberto recalls, “I watched that kid play when he was still in nappies. Even then you just knew he had something.”

The vice-president of Grandoli, Carlos Gómez, opens up the clubhouse to reveal an Aladdin's Cave of a trophy cabinet. Among the treasure trove are snaps of Messi and his team alongside pictures of other Grandoli alumni.

Looking at Messi’s picture it’s no wonder he was given the nickname la Pulga (the flea) at the inception of his career.

Another Grandoli graduate, Pedro Rojas, drops in at the club to make preparations for the coaching role he will take up next season. Pedro insists the production line at Grandoli is as strong as ever.

“We have this kid who scored four goals, all solo efforts, in our big derby match last season and my youngest son Tiziano is also a phenomenal talent.”

However, even on Messi’s old stomping ground the pint-sized marvel still can’t escape the detracting voices. 12-year-olds Alexis and Nahuel both have their issues with Messi, “Cristiano Ronaldo is a better player, Ronaldo has a much better shot.”

Outside the house where Messi grew up and his father still lives there’s also folk ready to knock the lad. One passer-by commented, “Big deal, the boy can kick a ball. It’s not like anybody important lived there, it’s not Kurt Cobain’s house.”

As time passes outside 525 Israel Street the mood changes and residents of the area who watched Messi grow up start to pop out for a word. Ruben, a neighbour from across the road, whips out his signed photos of Messi and all the kids claim to be cousins of the back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner.

Messi’s performances in the Copa America have done little to get his country’s press and public off his back but despite all this, Messi es Argentino. Sin duda! Costa Rica are priced at 20.00 to beat Argentina on Monday with paf.com.

Visit paf.com for the best Copa America odds

For more on the Copa America, listen to The South American Football Show by clicking here.