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Lionel Messi and Antonela Roccuzzo's Impressively Private Love Story Is One for the Record Books

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Lionel Messi is known for his artistry on the pitch, the pile of trophies he's amassed, his record 104 goals for the Argentine national team, for being one of the highest-paid athletes in the world.

But none of it would have meant all that much if he hadn't been playing his heart out for his own team all along.

"A year I will never forget comes to an end," the 36-year-old posted to Instagram (originally in Spanish) on Dec. 31, 2022, two weeks after finally adding a World Cup title to his incomparable list of accomplishments. "The dream I always pursued was finally fulfilled. But that wouldn't be worth anything if I couldn't share it with a wonderful family, the best family anybody can have. And friends who always support me and never let me stay down every time I fell."

It was a friend, in fact, who unwittingly introduced the athlete to his future wife when Messi was about 6 years old.

photosKim Kardashian, Tristan Thompson and Others Celebrate Lionel Messi's Miami Debut

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner was training at the youth academy run by Newell's Old Boys, a storied local club in his hometown of Rosario, about 186 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. Teammate Lucas Scaglia invited Messi to spend vacation with his family one summer, and that's how he met Scaglia's cousin Antonela Roccuzzo.

They were fast playmates, but neither child was aware that they'd met the One just yet.

And they had miles to go: Noticeably undersized among his peers, Messi was 10 when he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency and a pediatric endocrinologist recommended regular hormone injections. After two years, his father's insurance coverage ran out and they were unsure where to turn next.

Fate intervened when an Argentine sports agent got ahold of a tape of the obviously gifted 12-year-old, and he arranged an invitation to a tryout with FC Barcelona in 2000.

Joe Maher – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

After the European club signed him and agreed to pay for his treatment, the rest of the Messi family—dad Jorge, mom Celia, older brothers Matias and Rodrigo, and younger sister Maria-Sol initially moved to Spain in 2001. But Celia ended up taking his siblings back to Argentina, leaving Jorge to look after the teen.

Jorge remains his son's agent and closest confidante, so let's say it went well.

Messi eventually found his footing with La Masia, Barcelona's youth academy, scoring 38 goals in 31 games in his debut season at the under-16 level, and the rest is history. But when he was just a kid, battling homesickness and trying to literally grow into his outsized talent, his heart remained in Rosario.

Lionel Messi and Antonela Roccuzzo's Impressively Private Love Story Is One for the Record Books

Still in touch with Roccuzzo, and in 2005 he flew back home after hearing that her best friend had been killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, according to Argentina's Parati.

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Both 17 at the time, Messi and Roccuzzo's friendship blossomed into a full-blown romance, according to various accounts of his fateful trip home. 

"Yes, I have a girlfriend," Messi told Catalan's TV3 in 2009, per Newsweek. "She is in Argentina. The truth is that I am well and I am relaxed."

After Roccuzzo graduated from the National University of Rosario, she moved to Barcelona. And then that really was it. They've been together ever since, meaning Roccuzzo has had Messi's back since day one of his overwhelming international success. Which may be the reason why the success never overwhelmed him.

Messi told sports publication Marca in 2019 that he admired "everything" about his wife.

"She has many good qualities," he reflected. "How she gets by on a daily basis, her personality, she is always in a good mood and she always faces up to problems in an admirable way. She is a very intelligent person who is great in all aspects of life."

Michael Steele/Getty Images

While in European football "the double" means a club has won its league title and its country's major cup competition in the same season, the sport's de facto first couple have notched a different sort of double: They've managed to keep their family life on a separate tier from Messi mania.

Both he and Roccuzzo have shared oodles of snaps of sons Thiago, 10, Matteo, 8, and Ciro, 5, and Messi's homegrown cheering section accompanies him to tournaments around the globe, including last year's World Cup in Qatar, but they live privately. 

Becoming a father "changes you completely," Messi, who in June 2012 cheekily encouraged the very-true rumors that he was going to be a first-time dad by putting the ball under his shirt after scoring during a World Cup qualifier against Ecuador, told El Periódico de Catalunya when Thiago was 2 months old. "If things didn't go my way before, I became withdrawn and didn't want to see or listen to anyone. Now, when I arrive home, I see my son and everything is OK."

Charly Diaz Azcue/LatinContent via Getty Images

While he played for Barcelona, the family lived in a large private compound with its own gym, theater and personal-size soccer field in the coastal town of Castelldefels. A typical day would see Messi dropping the kids off at school, training, resting at home with a cup of maté, picking up the kids, eating dinner with his family and going to sleep early. Rinse, repeat.

"It's a normal, calm life, the kind of life we have always wanted," he told soccer journalist Grant Wahl for Sports Illustrated in 2016.

And though he's only become more famous and revered around the globe since then, nothing has changed.

Instagram (@antonelaroccuzzo)

"After all his success, championships, pressures and failures, he's always stayed true to who he is," TyC Sports Argentina commentator Ariel Senosiain told The Athletic this past summer. As for Roccuzzo, who has 37.3 million Instagram followers to her husband's 489 million, "She knows that he's the star, and yes, she has her own ventures and an important social media following, but if you cross paths with her, you'll realize how down-to-earth she is."

And because they can't help being a closely watched couple, they play ball accordingly: Date night pics here, FOMO-inducing shots from some tropical paradise (or snowy mountains) there, many scenes of mother and sons in the stands wearing No. 10, and just as many of the family of five all together.

Gabriel Rossi/LatinContent via Getty Images

About 24 years after they first met, Messi and Roccuzzo married on June 30, 2017, in Rosario, surrounded by loved ones and an entire community that had shipped them with pride. It was a private affair and security was head-of-state-level tight, but in a very royal wedding-esque accommodation, people gathered to watch the ceremony on big screens around the city.

Guests at what a local paper dubbed "the wedding of the century" included Shakira and then-partner Gerard Piqué, plus fellow soccer luminaries Luis Suárez and Neymar.

"He must have had offers so that his wedding, the best moment of his life, could take place where others wanted," Messi's former Newell's Old Boys coach Enrique Domínguez told CNN. "And yet he chose Rosario."

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Meanwhile, Messi remained the toast of Barcelona, but after 17 seasons he signed a two-year deal with Paris Saint-Germain in 2021. His family moved to Neuilly-Sur-Seine and he added two Ligue 1 titles and a Trophée des Champions to his haul.

In 2022, however, nothing mattered to Messi more than finally winning Argentina's first World Cup in 36 years. 

He told reporters, per The Athletic, he was aware of "the anxiety within my family and the country as a whole. Particularly my wife Antonela and son Thiago, who watches all the national team games and knows all the possible match-ups, the opponents. 'When are we going?' he asks. 'When's the first game? When's the second game?' He's nervous and the truth is that it puts terrible pressure on me."

Instagram

Yet inevitably one team was going to get the fairy-tale ending, and this time around it was Messi's.

"MY CHAMPION," Roccuzzo captioned a photo of her longtime love giving the World Cup Trophy a kiss.

photosAthlete Romances You Should Be Rooting For

Earlier this year, with his time in Paris drawing to a close, soccer watchers wondered if Messi would possibly return to Barcelona or follow Cristiano Ronaldo's lead and sign a mid-nine-figure deal to play in Saudi Arabia. Instead, he turned the sporting world on its head and signed with Inter Miami—fulfilling a longtime goal for team co-owner David Beckham, who admittedly always pictured having the GOAT romping on the grass at DRV PNK Stadium.  

So, Messi and Roccuzzo packed up and moved to Florida, a shift in the global soccer order that was documented for the Apple TV+ series Messi Meets America.

They've since acquired a 10,500-square-foot waterfront mansion in Fort Lauderdale for $10.75 million, according to the Miami Herald, and got right down to business. (And play, the couple doing dinners with Messi's new teammates and Roccuzzo having a night out with Victoria Beckham.)

The humble routine, however, remained the same: "I finish training at 1 p.m., then I go home and Antonela and I have lunch," Messi shared with OLGA host Migue Granados, per Hola!. "I take a nap and we watch TV or movies." 

Though the team, which was in last place when Messi arrived, will miss the MLS playoffs this season, Miami games have become A-list destinations (Who wasn't there when they played the Galaxy in Los Angeles?) and the once-foundering club won the Leagues Cup with their new megastar forward in July, giving Messi his all-time record 44th major soccer trophy.

Instagram (@leomessi)

"I came with great enthusiasm," Messi reflected in Messi Meets America. "My wife and I and our children have really been enjoying ourselves. And we've been talking about what this could mean for us."

Incidentally, he also told OLGA that he and Roccuzzo wouldn't mind having another kid, adding, "We're not searching, but we'll see if a baby girl arrives." So it could mean that, among other opportunities.

At the same time, unlimited post-retirement business potential aside, the athlete is now much closer to the end of his playing career than the beginning. Messi has built a massive compound in Rosario, their forever-home base no matter where the road takes them, and he has said he'd like to play for Newell's—where he made a local name for himself at 6 years old—before hanging up his cleats for good.

Instagram (@leomessi)

But there's been one theme running throughout, wherever they are, which Messi noted alongside a photo of him and Roccuzzo sitting with their boys on the edge of a fabulous swimming pool, legs dangling in the water, while on vacation in July.

"Always like this," he wrote. "#familia."

Stay in the moment with the Messis and keep reading for more delightful family photos:

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