Tehran, Iran | AFP | Iranian student Reza Parastesh looks so much like his sporting hero Lionel Messi that it almost landed him in jail for disrupting public order this week.
So many people came out to take selfies with Parastesh in the western city of Hamedan over the weekend that police rushed him into a station and impounded his car to stop the chaos and clear traffic.
The resemblance is so uncanny that Eurosport UK reportedly used his photo by accident on Twitter recently when talking about the real Messi.
The furore began a few months ago when Parastesh’s football-mad father pressured the 25-year-old into posing in a number 10 Barcelona jersey and sending the pictures to a sports website.
“I sent them one night and by the morning they had called me and said I should come in quickly for an interview,” he told AFP.
Despite his early reluctance, Parastesh soon grew into his new role, cutting his hair like Messi and often donning the Barca jersey when he goes out.
It has paid off — he is fully booked with media interviews and has even landed modelling contracts.
“Now people really see me as the Iranian Messi and want me to mimic everything he does. When I show up somewhere, people are really shocked,” he said.
Iranians are obsessed with football, and Parastesh finds himself constantly besieged by fans looking for a selfie.
“I’m really happy that seeing me makes them happy and this happiness gives me a lot of energy,” he added.
Parastesh loves football but has never played professionally, though he is working on some tricks so he can better play the role.
He remembers very well the last game between Iran and Argentina during World Cup 2014, when Messi’s 91st-minute goal robbed the Islamic republic of a place in the last 16.
Reza’s dad was furious.
“After the game, my dad called me and said don’t come back home tonight… why did you score a goal against Iran? I said: But that wasn’t me!” Parastesh said, laughing.
His goal now is to meet his hero in Barcelona, and maybe even land a job as his understudy.
“Being the best player in footballing history, he definitely has more work than he can handle. I could be his representative when he is too busy,” he said.