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Unknown player who beat Lionel Messi to award now lives a very different life eight years on

Unknown player who beat Lionel Messi to award now lives a very different life eight years on

Wendell Lira beat Lionel Messi to the Puskas Award in 2015 and his story is nothing short of incredible.

In 2015, Wendell Lira managed to do what not many players are able to: get the better of Lionel Messi.

After his sublime bicycle kick goal scored for Goianesia in a Brazilian lower league game against Atletico Goianiense, he won the coveted Puskas Award.

Messi was a finalist following his stunning solo goal in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao.

Messi, who won the Ballon d'Or that year, scooped 33.3 percent of the votes.

But Lira accrued a whopping 46.7% of the votes for his strike, in front of just 297 supporters, to win the gong at a ceremony in Zurich.

"It is an honour to be here to get know famous players I've only seen on the screen before," Lira said after being presented with the prize.

"I thank my family and all those who voted for me. I should like to thank my wife and my daughter."

Image: Getty
Image: Getty

Lira had been a Brazil youth international and played with the likes of Denilson, Willian and Alexandre Pato.

He was once the subject of a bid from AC Milan, which was turned down by his club.

Lira was something of a journeyman in the Brazilian lower leagues but the money was not great.

In fact, it was once reported that 82% of footballers in Brazil earning less than $250.

Lira could therefore not provide for his family and found himself deep in debt. Two days before his Puskas Award nomination, he planned to commit suicide but could not go through with it.

Image: Getty
Image: Getty

His triumph completely saved his life and allowed a fresh start.

"I’d already decided I was going to end my life,” he told in 2019.

“When you can’t put food on the table, give your daughter and wife the minimum they need to get by… I saw no way out.

“I’d spent the whole night crying. I was going to play a friendly in Goianesia. On the way from Goiania to Goianesia I cried my eyes out, because I’d already planned on ending my life on that journey. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, so I returned home. I hugged my daughter and knew I couldn’t let her grow up without a father.

“Two days later I got the news I’d been nominated for the Puskás Award. It saved my life, allowed me to turn it around, rewrite my story, win the Puskás, get the opportunities it brought, work and support my family.

“The award came at a really, really crucial moment. Thank God I didn’t end up making that huge mistake.”

Messi did get a move to Vila Nova in the second division but had to retire from football altogether aged 27 because of recurring knee injuries.

However, his award win and presence at the event changed his life in ways he never could have imagined.

The best FIFA/EA Sports FC player in the world at the time, Abdulaziz Alshehri, from Saudi Arabia was in attendance and many of the star footballers there were invited to test out their skills with the controller.

Image: Wendell Lira
Image: Wendell Lira

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi rejected the proposal but Lira accepted and ended up hammering Alshehri 6-1 with Real Madrid.

Lira then decided to become a YouTuber and delved into professional Esports.

Fast forward to the present day and Lira has 150,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 37 million views overall.

He also has 270,000 followers on Twitch, where he regularly live streams playing EA FC.

More importantly, he now earns much more playing FIFA on a console than he did on a football pitch.

Lira was snapped up up by a sports marketing company and handed a five-year contract to represent them in tournaments.

He has also turned out for Sporting Cp, the Brazilian national team and Netshoes, while also providing content on his channel and making money through sponsorships and adverts.

Image: Getty
Image: Getty

Reflecting on pipping Messi, he commented: “Even today, I still can’t believe it. It was a fairytale. I don’t know if in 15 or 20 years it will sink in: that I beat Messi to win the Puskás Award.

"Leaving my name in football history is something that means so much more to me than money ever could."

Featured Image Credit: Getty, Sporting CP & Wendell Lira

Topics: Lionel Messi, Ballon d'Or