Jiao Zhang left her job as a financial business partner in Alicloud, a unit of the e-commerce enterprise Aligroup, to see Lionel Messi become a World Cup winner in Qatar. Her passion for Argentina’s national team took her on a journey that started with a prayer in Tibet in June 2022 and all led her the way to Santa Fe, the Argentine province where Messi was born, following the tournament’s end.
Lionel Messi and Argentina’s National team have a huge fanbase in China, a group that’ll have the unique opportunity of seeing them play a friendly match against Australia June 15. One of those fans is Zhang, who thinks football players are artists on the pitch and is capable of traveling around the world to see them.
In an interview with the Herald, Zhang said the unique feeling she has for Lio began in 2006 in Germany, when Messi played in his first World Cup. Although his talent impressed her, what really caught her eye was his temperament. “He has a very good attitude towards everybody, you could see that more than 10 years ago and it’s still there.”
Zhang has always loved watching football and enjoys how tense matches can get. She was a teenager when she first came across Messi as she was always on the lookout for great players, but the Argentine star’s personality is what set him apart. “It was so touching for me, he was very young but had a big heart and fought to be a champion until he made it in his last World Cup.”
In her eyes, the player from Rosario is not just the captain, but also a big brother looking out for the rest of the team. “It’s what keeps them united, and it was a key to the championship,” she said. As a fan, Zhang wanted to understand where this bond came from, so she flew from Qatar to Argentina following the World Cup victory to visit the GOAT’s home town.
Zhang arrived in Santa Fe province wanting to connect directly with Messi’s past, getting as close as she could to “breathing the same air that made him the leader and player he is.” She visited the house where the 35-year-old player grew up and took pictures of wall paintings of different members of the National team, scattered among the ones in Messi’s honor. After traveling the whole world to get there, Zhang recommends football fans make the same trip to hear stories and discover memories of his life.
That was not all she visited while in Argentina. Her journey included a match in La Bombonera -Boca Juniors FC stadium- where she got to see first hand how passionate Argentines are about the teams they follow. “Fans remain standing through the whole match, and you can hear them singing and cheering, even small children.”
Being in Latin America made Zhang think about how locals manage their work-life balance and the time they have for enjoying sports they love. “I think it’s more of a life attitude. If you’re passionate about football that means you’re passionate towards life,” she says, recalling how pressured people in Asian countries are to work overtime.
Jiao is looking forward to attending Argentina v. Australia in China and she’s willing to do anything for tickets, but prices range between US$ 85 and US $730. The cheaper seats are getting sold out quickly, and her recent second chance at trying to secure one was unsuccessful. According to Zhang’s experience, getting tickets now is much harder than during the Qatar tournament.
Aside from football, she plans to visit Argentina again. Despite spending 90 days crisscrossing the country from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and trekking in El Chaltén, Zhang is hoping to see a lot more of Latin America.