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Bleacher Report

Young Leo Messi joined his hometown club, Newell’s Old Boys—or “Nuls,” as people in Argentina call it—when he was just six years old. He’d been waiting almost all his life for the day. The club was his birthright. His uncles and aunts had given him a red-and-black Newell’s jersey for his first birthday. Both his older brothers had played youth-team football for the club. He even had gone to the club’s stadium in Rosario to see Diego Maradona’s Nuls debut in October 1993.

In his first game for Newell’s, a 6-0 victory, Messi scored four goals, according to the Association of Rosario Football. He was setting a tone. He became the totem for arguably Argentina’s most famous under-age team, “La Maquina del ’87,” or “The Machine of ’87,” named after the year a crop of the club’s players were born. They were invincible. In what’s called “baby football” in Argentina—a seven-a-side game children play until they’re 11—La Maquina del ’87 went unbeaten for three years.

When the club graduated to the 11-a-side format at age 11, with more space to play with on the bigger pitches, it was more of the same. They swept all before them. They won every tournament they entered, plundering fields across Argentina and competitions as far away as Peru, on the other side of the continent. In 2000, Newell’s won their championship by at least 20 points, according to Franco Falleroni, one of the team’s strikers. “In five or six seasons, we only lost about three times,” says another teammate, Gonzalo Mazzia.

Sometimes Newell’s own goalkeeper was so bored during the beatings his outfield teammates were administering, he would sit on his backside in the box. They bullied teams so badly—racking up 10, 12 and 15 goals a game—that some opponents put a 6-0 limit on the scoreline. The game would have to stop once six goals had gone in. It was the only way to stem the bleeding.

Messi was insatiable. I ask Adrian Coria—who coached Messi in 10th grade, the final year he played for Newell’s before leaving to join Barcelona at age 13—if it is true that Messi scored more than 500 goals for Newell’s during those years as a kid.

Coria puffs out his lips. “At least.”

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