Blog post updated on 17th February 2022
Lionel Messi is a professional footballer from Argentina. He plays for both the international teams of Argentina and Barcelona. There have been discussions as to whether he has autism or not.
In 2013, the former footballer and current politician Romario referred to an article that suggested Messi suffered from Asperger syndrome. The video on the YouTube channel Soccer Stories – Oh My Goal’s video where Romario quoted the journalist Roberto Amado who made this suggestion also suggests that Albert Einstein had one type of high-functioning autism (please also see Did Einstein have dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and ADHD? )
The video claims that Messi had problems with reading social cues and interacting with other people when he was a child, which are typical autistic traits. An anecdote from a journalist for El Pais proved that “Lionel came onto the pitch with a plastic spoon in his mouth” and didn’t remove it until the end of the session. This could be looked upon as an autism-related mannerism, but the video claimed that Messi did this as “a way of showing how annoyed he was.” Nobody knew why he was annoyed, and nobody tried to find out either.
The video also implies that there are examples of Messi’s “extreme shyness” such as texting something important instead of telling someone about it face to face and being timid at school. In one class, a friend of Messi’s raised their hand for him when the teacher asked him a question. Both these attributes of shyness can be applied to anyone whether they have autism or not. The video suggests that “team sports, in particular football, are not easy to play for children with Asperger’s.” Some positive traits of Messi’s are that he “is very agile and sees things very quickly.”
Even though the journalist Romario quoted had no intention to stigmatise the journalist, he wanted to draw attention to “his exceptionality.” The video believes that it was foolish of Amado to call Messi autistic.
According to Cameron Ridgway for Wessex Scene, “there are unconfirmed reports that Messi was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome” at the age of 9. When Messi was a young child in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was believed to be nicknamed ‘el pequeno mudito,’ which means ‘the little mute’ because “he would rarely speak to his peers or team-mates outside of necessary interactions on the pitch in games and during training.” Going back to the Soccer Stories – Oh My Goal’s video, there was also speculation on Twitter of Romario claiming that Messi had autism.
Messi has not publicly discussed the rumours about him having autism or Asperger syndrome, but several autism awareness associations besides ACN “have hailed him as an example of a celebrity with Asperger’s.”
Lionel Messi isn’t the only football player with autism. John O’Kane, former Manchester United player, has also revealed that he is autistic. O’Kane only received his diagnosis after he had retired from football, but he now helps to raise awareness by sharing his story with others.
Even though Soccer Stories – Oh My Goal and Ridgway have mentioned some traits that suggest Messi has autism or Asperger syndrome and he is on ACN’s list of famous people with autism, it is not officially confirmed that he has either condition and Messi himself has not addressed the rumours about him in public. If you yourself think you may have autism, you can take our free autism quiz to see which traits you have.