Rosario is a city that is defined by its passion. Lucky, then, that the 1.2 million citizens of this charming college town have so much to be proud of.
This relatively small town in the province of Santa Fé – much less cosmopolitan than Buenos Aires – has given the world myriad stars from all walks of life. Not only Messi, but Angel Di Maria, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Mauro Icardi and Maxi Rodriguez. A million miles from the bright lights of the Camp Nou, Che Guevara was born here.
Rosario boasts the beauty of the gaucho countryside, with a lifestyle that revolves around the Paraná River. Along its banks you will find a small, patchy football pitch, the home of Grandoli football club. Run by parents in a rough and tough working-class neighbourhood, the club provides training and league games for local children.
It wasn’t long before Messi graduated to one of Argentina’s best provincial clubs: Newell’s Old Boys. The club was founded in 1903 and named in honour of an English immigrant, Isaac Newell. Messi spent his childhood as a physically underdeveloped footballing phenomenon, impressing so much at Newell’s Old Boys that he earned a move to Barcelona’s La Masia at the age of 11.
The city is proud of arguably it’s greatest export, and certainly doesn’t begrudge him leaving. Crossing the Parana is a rite of passage – Che swam the Amazons and became a legend. Messi arguably did the same by leaving so early for his success in Catalunya.
Rosario in its busiest parts is not unlike a bucolic Barcelona, though the contrast between the city centre and the outskirts is vast.
This city breathes rock, with bands like Vicio – an up-and-coming rock band that has been growing steadily in the last five years – born into its characteristic smokey bars.
The city is usually referred to as a semillero (seedbed), an expression used to describe a place where great or very talented people come from.
And while the local clubs seem to possess an extraordinary sense of instinct when selecting their potential star players, this quality reaches beyond the world of football. After all, this is the city that also saw the rise of Luciana Aymar, today considered to be one of the greatest female hockey players of all time.
Western clubs are wise to keep on eye on this modest breeding ground – but there is much more to this idiosyncratic city than its propensity to create footballing superstars.