Lionel Messi married his childhood sweetheart Antonella Roccuzzo on Friday night at a well-guarded ceremony in his Argentine hometown of Rosario. Some of the top names in world football flew down to the Argentinian city to be alongside one of the top players in the world’s marriage ceremony that was being called as ‘wedding of the decade’ in Argentine media. About 250 guests descended on the luxurious hotel. The likes of which included his Barcelona teammates Neymar, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique, who was joined by his wife, Colombian pop star Shakira. Earlier there were reports of Pique turning down the invitation due to differences between Shakira and Roccuzzo.
Argentines were abuzz over the wedding in Rosario, an agricultural hub and the country’s third-largest city about 300 kilometres (186 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires. Nearly 150 journalists were allowed to cover the event but had no access to cover the ceremony or the after-party.
Onlookers gathered near the hotel to catch a glimpse of the football stars and snap photos with them. But the Israeli security team employed by Messi for his usual visits was on hand to keep lurkers at bay even with the neighbourhood notorious for its drug gang Los Monos.
“We think it’s great that Messi has come to Rosario to get married,” said Julio Sosa, who cleans windows for a living.
Messi, now 30, grew up in a lower middle-class neighbourhood in Rosario along with his two brothers and a sister. His bride, 29, is the cousin of a close Messi friend and the new couple has been close friends since meeting at a young age. The duo stayed in touch after Messi left for Spain to play with Barcelona’s youth team before Roccuzzo joined him in the Spanish city later where they started dating in late 2000s. The couple have two sons – 4-year-old Thiago and 1-year-old Mateo.
“Messi could have had this wedding wherever he liked – Dubai, the moon. He can pay any plane ticket to anyone, but he chose the city that’s in his heart,” said Leandro Macaya.
Messi, despite bringing laurels to his club Barcelona and winning numerous personal accolades including being a five-time FIFA world player of the year, has endured criticism for not bringing glory to his national team. Last year, after the Copa America Centenario and yet another heartbreak, Messi announced shock retirement. However, a few weeks later he did a U-turn on his decision. Despite that, he is praised both at home and abroad for keeping his common touch. “He was always the same and he never changed,” said Diego Vallejos, a childhood friend who was invited to the wedding. “Despite everything that he’s accomplished in life, he’s still the same simple kid, the skinny dude that I grew up with. It’s hard to explain the feeling – I’m both a friend and a fan.”
(With inputs from AP)