Messi's 'biggest fan' probably not in Dohuk

A boy wearing a Lionel Messi football shirt made out of a carrier bag Image copyright Twitter

Have you seen this boy?

This heart-warming image has captivated thousands online and sparked an international hunt for the child in the photo. But the Twitter user who seems to have directed the search towards Dohuk in Iraq has admitted to BBC Trending that he made that bit up.

It's easy to see why the photo captured people's attention. Seemingly unable to afford a replica shirt of football superstar Lionel Messi - in the blue and white stripes of Argentina's national team - the boy is wearing a plastic carrier bag in similar colours. The star's name and number are scrawled in pen on the back of the makeshift shirt.

"Too cute! Hope they find him," read one typical tweet. "Little boy in war-torn Iraq wears a Lionel Messi football shirt made from a plastic bag," read another.

Many of those who have shared the photo on social media have also repeated rumours that the boy is thought to be from the Dohuk in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Reports that Messi himself is trying to contact the boy to give him a proper shirt are also rife online. The hunt is on, but as yet "Messi's biggest fan" has yet to be located.

In the hope of shedding light on the mystery, Trending contacted people on the ground in Dohuk who say that while the landscape could indeed be from a rural area nearby, it was impossible to be certain.

So where did the rumours of the Kurdish connection originate from?

Most of the speculation about the boy's whereabouts seem to trace back to a Twitter user @illMindOfRobin. He posted the picture on 13 January, two full days before it was picked up widely elsewhere. "Messi in Kurdistan" and "Messi in Duhok, Iraq" he wrote when posting the photo.

Image copyright @illMondOfRobin / Twitter

But more recently on his feed he has ridiculed the media for running with the suggestion, and states directly that he had been joking. "I was the first one to share this and said it was Duhok out of bants [for a laugh] because my parents are from there."

Image copyright @illMindOfRobin / Twitter

OK, so he made have made that bit up, but where did he get the photo from originally?

"Been going through my Facebook feed for ages still can't find where I found this pic," he laments in another tweet.

Speaking to BBC Trending @illMindOfRobin says he's a high school student living in Sweden. His parents grew up in Dohuk and he says he just wanted to give the place some "slight recognition".

When Trending asked him if, given his interests, it was likely that he had found the photo on Kurdish social media. He agreed that could well have been the case.

So the location of where the photo was taken and the story behind it remain a mystery.

And what about the claims that Lionel Messi wants to send a shirt to his elusive young fan?

This rumour seems to have emerged on Monday when a Messi fan account tweeted: "We got DM from [Lionel Messi]'s team. They want to know who this kid is so that Leo can arrange something for him. RT & spread." But as yet this has not been publicly confirmed by the footballer himself.

And so for now, at least, the search continues.

Blog by Sam Judah & Richard Irvine-Brown

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