Junior Messias used to deliver fridges… now he's AC Milan's new hero

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

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

Ten years ago, Junior Messias was struggling. The Brazilian was living in northern Italy aged 20 with no residence permit and no job, along with a wife and two sons to feed.

Football saved the now-AC Milan winger, but it was a slow burner. Alongside playing for a team of Peruvian refugees, Messias spent long hours delivering fridges in the working week before turning out in the amateur leagues on the weekend. 

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

Junior Messias scored the winner in AC Milan’s Champions League win over Atletico Madrid

Just six years ago, Messias was playing in Italy’s amateur leagues for a Peruvian refugee team

From the refugee life eating ‘rice and stones’ in order to pursue a career in the game, to becoming the toast of Milan and one of the biggest clubs in the world, the Brazilian has taken his place among the great football underdog stories.

As a teenager, Messias was playing in the academy of Brazilian giants Cruzeiro – but upon failing to make the grade aged 20, he moved his entire family over to northern Italy to link up with his brother.

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The winger believed his experience in Brazilian football would have earned him a spot in Serie D – Italy’s fourth tier – but nobody was interested.

Instead, he played for free at Sport Warique – an amateur team consisting of solely Peruvian refugees who opened their fellow South American with open arms, but only if he took the spare fridge delivery job that was going.  

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

‘Football is a pleasure, no matter where you play,’ Messias told the Serie A YouTube channel earlier this year. ‘I had fun with the lads. I liked playing with them. 

‘Getting together at the weekend and playing football was pure enjoyment because my day job was tough. 

‘So, after a hard week’s work, football was exactly what we needed. I am still in contact with my team-mates from those early days.’ 

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

Rossi saw the attacker’s talents and tried desperately hard to get the Brazilian a route through the Italian football pyramid. His efforts were nearly in vain, as Messias nearly gave up on his dream.  

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

‘I tried to put him in contact with (Serie D club) Fossano,’ Rossi told Gianluca Di Marzio earlier this year. ‘They offered him a very low wage and Junior preferred to continue to be a delivery man. 

‘He told me that he had to think about his family and that he had eaten “rice and stones” to play football, but it was no longer worth it. He had to face reality.’

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

Messias was on the ladder and he kept climbing up it. He scored 21 goals 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

The following season saw him join fourth-tier Chieri in a sideways move, much to the annoyance of Rossi, who stayed at Casale. That move lasted just one season as another Serie D club Gozzano snapped him up in 2017, where the Brazilian helped them to promotion to the third tier. 

After two years at Gozzano, Serie B side Crotone signed him and his first season there saw the club win promotion to the Italian top flight. From the fifth tier in 2015 to Serie A in five years, that should have been the end of the story.

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

Another season in Serie B beckoned but on deadline day this year AC Milan came calling. The Rossoneri took him off Crotone’s hands on a £2m loan with the option to make it permanent for £4.5m. 

Messias made his Serie A debut with Crotone in 2020 but got relegated with the club last term

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

But two goalless cameos against Atalanta and Fiorentina were enough for Stefano Pioli to put the Brazilian on the pitch during their must-win clash against Atleti on Wednesday.

Messias joined the front line alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic and in the dying moments of the Wanda Metropolitano clash, Franck Kessie clipped a cross towards where the Swedish striker was lingering at the back post.

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

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

Coming from nowhere – just like how he emerged unseen from amateur football into the professional game – Messias was there to head home a vital goal in Milan’s season. Ibrahimovic was the first to congratulate him. 

And with Milan joint-top of Serie A in this open Scudetto race, is there another twist to come in the Brazilian’s incredible career? 

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




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