Six years ago, Junior Messias was delivering fridges and eating ‘rice and stones’ in order to play in Italy’s amateur leagues… now he has scored on his Champions League debut and is becoming AC Milan’s new hero

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  • Junior Messias was AC Milan’s hero in their European win over Atletico Madrid
  • Messias nets a late winner to keep his side’s Champions League dream alive
  • Six years ago, the Brazilian was distributing fridges for his Italian amateur team.
  • The 30-year-old played in every Italian league from the fifth level to his rise.
  • The story of Messias ultimately shrugs off other underdog stories that football has to offer.

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Ten years ago, Junior Messias was struggling. The Brazilian was living in northern Italy at the age of 20, with neither a residence permit nor a job, to feed a wife and two sons.

The football saved the now-AC Milan winger, but it was a slow burn. As well as playing for a team of Peruvian refugees, Messias spent long hours giving away friezes over the working week before playing in the amateur league over the weekend.

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Making it into the Italian professional game is a miracle in itself, but the attacker’s Hollywood-style underdog story came in handy Wednesday night when he tried to retain their under-fire champions for AC Milan’s dramatic last-gas win at Atletico Madrid. Netted the winner. League campaign alive.

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Junior Messias wins AC Milan’s Champions League win over Atletico Madrid

Just six years ago, Messias was playing for the Peruvian refugee team in the Italian amateur league.

Just six years ago, Messias was playing for the Peruvian refugee team in the Italian amateur league.

From eating a refugee life ‘rice and stone’ to building a career in sports, to becoming the toast of Milan and becoming one of the biggest clubs in the world, Brazil has taken its place in the great football underdog stories.

As a teenager, Messias was playing at the academy of Brazilian legend Cruzeiro – but failing to make the grade at the age of 20, he relocated his entire family to northern Italy to join his brother.

The winger believed that his experience in Brazilian football would have earned him a place in the fourth tier of Serie D – Italy – but no one was interested.

Instead, he played for free at Sport Varic – an amateur team consisting only of Peruvian refugees who opened their fellow South American with open arms, but only when they took on the extra fridge delivery that was underway.

Messias (holding the trophy) worked as a fridge delivery driver during his time at Sport Warrick.

Messias (holding the trophy) worked as a fridge delivery driver during his time at Sport Warrick.

‘Football is a pleasure, no matter where you play,’ said Messias serie a youtube channel earlier this year. ‘I had fun with the boys. I loved playing with them.

‘Getting together on the weekends and playing football was pure joy because my day job was tough.

‘So, after a hard week’s work, football was just what we needed. I am still in touch with my teammates from those initial days.

Messias needed a miracle to make it into the professional sport and his guardian angel came in the form of former Torino player and manager Ezio Rossi, who was volunteering at Sport Warrique at the time.

Rossi noticed the attacker’s talent and worked hard to get Brazil a route through the Italian football pyramid. His efforts were almost in vain, as Messius almost gave up on his dream.

The winger (second left, back row) almost gave up on his dream of playing professional football

The winger (second left, back row) almost gave up on his dream of playing professional football

‘I tried to get him in touch with (Serie D club) Fosano’, said Rossi gianluca di marzio earlier this year. ‘They offered him a very low salary and Junior chose to remain the delivery man.

‘He told me he had to think about his family and that he ate “rice and stones” to play football, but it wasn’t worth it anymore. He had to face reality.

Five years into his Italian dream, Messias finally got his chance. Rossi was assigned a coaching role at fifth-tier team Casale and ordered the club to sign with the Brazilian on a £315-a-week contract.

Messias was on the ladder and he kept climbing it. He scored 21 goals in his first season in Italian football to earn Casale promotion to Serie D.

Messias (second right) finally got his chance in 2015 and made it to Serie B in four years

Messias (second right) finally got his chance in 2015 and made it to Serie B in four years

The next season saw him engage in an edge move with fourth-tier Chiari, much to the annoyance of Rossi, who stayed at Casale. The move lasted just one season, as he was snubbed in 2017 by another Serie D club Gozano, where Brazil helped promote him to the third tier.

After two years at Gozano, he was signed by Serie B side Crotone and his first season saw the club promotion to the Italian top flight. From the fifth level in 2015 to Serie A in five years, that should have been the end of the story.

But no, Croton faced an embarrassing relegation from last season, conceding 92 goals in 38 games – yet Messias was a shining light with nine Serie A strikes.

Another season started in Serie B but on the day of this year’s deadline, AC Milan called. Rossoneri took him on a £2m loan with the option to make him permanent from the hands of Crotone for £4.5m.

Messias made his Serie A debut with Croton in 2020, but rejoined the club in his final stint

Messias made his Serie A debut with Croton in 2020, but rejoined the club in his final stint

Messias was left out of his first six match-day squads with Milan due to fitness problems, but who can blame him: the 30-year-old wasn’t even a professional six years ago.

But two goalless cameos against Atalanta and Fiorentina were enough for Stefano Pioli to put Brazil on the pitch during their winning streak against Atalti on Wednesday.

Messias joined the front line with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and in the final moments of the Wanda Metropolitano clash, Frank Casey slammed a cross into where the Swedish striker was lying at the back post.

The 30-year-old was signed by AC Milan on an initial £2m loan deal with the option to buy

The 30-year-old was signed by AC Milan on an initial £2m loan deal with the option to buy

Messias pops up with winning goal to keep AC Milan’s Champions League dreams alive

Coming out of nowhere – just as he emerged from amateur football as unseen in the professional game – Messias was an important home goal in Milan’s season. Ibrahimovic was the first to congratulate him.

And with Milan joint top of Serie A in this open scudato race, is there another turning point in the Brazilian’s incredible career?

Superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left) was the first to congratulate Messias for his goal

Superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left) was the first to congratulate Messias for his goal

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