Talk about a tabloid newspaper's worst nightmare.
Lionel Messi is the biggest star in the world's most popular sport outside the United States, just forgive him if he prefers not to be seen.
After scoring his record-breaking 233rd soccer goal on Tuesday night, Messi didn't stick around to talk with reporters. He put the historical soccer ball in the back of his car and headed home. The Independent (London) reports Messi plays like Superman on the pitch and acts like Clark Kent off it.
Teammate Gerard Pique, who's known the social contact-fearing Messi for a dozen years, said the star is "Ridiculously normal." Likewise, Pique says his friend's personality hasn't changed, despite his global celebrity status.
"If you put the 13-year-old Leo next to the 24-year-old one you would see that he has not changed at all," he said.
In other words, he was a withdrawn as a teen.
Despite a potential world of fame and attention, Messi is a huge recluse. He lives with his girlfriend Antonella in a small coastal city not far from Barcelona. Messi's older brother resides in the same complex with his family, and teammate Javier Mascherano lives next door.
The greatest player since Diego Maradona, and quite possibly ever, doesn't leave his house much, other than walking his dogs on the beach. Messi passes on drinking or smoking. Furthermore, while he wants to someday have a family with his girlfriend, he's got no plans to get married. Those pesky tabloids would torment Messi's wedding.
It's clear that Messi is only comfortable with attention when he's got a soccer ball around his feet.
"He gets embarrassed when people look at him," the former Argentina captain Juan Sebastian Veron said.
Close with his family, Messi drives the 250 miles from Bueno Aires to Rosario, Argentina every summer and Christmas to visit his parents and other siblings. His favorite meal is home-cooked Milanesa, which the Independent described as thinly sliced steak covered in breadcrumbs and grilled or fried.
In the long run, the most important thing, as teammate Pique said, is Messi's ability to dominate on the pitch. It's something he's been able to do since he was a young teen.
"You could see he was far better than everyone else, but you never knew if once he got into the senior side he would be able to do everything he was doing in the youth team," Pique said. "But it is exactly the same as when he was 13 years old playing against other local boys' teams. He plays exactly the same way only now he is doing it in La Liga and the Champions League."
Follow Ben Maller on Twitter @BenMaller.
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