The existence of Lionel Messi, widely hailed as the greatest footballer on the planet, has been confirmed to be a hoax engineered by Barcelona over the last nine years. The shocking confession was made by several high-ranking sources within the club after news broke of American college football player Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend being a fabrication on Wednesday.
"The myth of Leo Messi has gone on far too long," said one executive-level source on the condition of anonymity just a week after Messi was awarded his record fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or at UEFA's gala event. "It has always been a matter of time before it all unraveled, but now is the time for the truth to be told."
"It began in 2004," another source told us. "Barca had not won a title in years and strong forces from within decided that a new icon was needed to boost morale among the team and its supporters and to achieve unparalleled levels of success. So Messi was created. A backstory was dreamed up in which he was plucked from Argentina as a young boy and that the club generously paid to treat his growth hormone deficiency. He would be a modern David playing in a Goliath of a club."
Messi's name was included in several match reports published by the club's official website that season and he was even credited with a goal as Barcelona went on to win their first league title in six years. When fans and journalists began to latch on to stories of the teenager's great potential, the club supported his growing popularity with doctored highlights uploaded to the newly created video site YouTube in 2005. Since the picture resolution in YouTube clips wasn't very high at the time, it was relatively easy for Barcelona to create passable computer animations of the Messi character demonstrating remarkable skill that would be seen and shared by football fans around the world.
"No one has questioned why Messi is never caught putting a foot wrong off the pitch or making nasty headlines in the tabloids," our source continued. "Every person -- especially every young person in the spotlight -- makes a mistake sometime, but it was decided that Messi would not. He was made to be an impossibly shy and wholesome boy who does not fight in nightclubs or date a different nude model each week. This shyness would also explain his reluctance to talk to the press and it has only made the public love him more."
As more and more attention was given to Messi, Barcelona found it increasingly difficult to continue his existence entirely on the Internet without being found out. So in the 2005/06 season, a new hologram technology was tested, allowing them to cast his image on the pitch for live television broadcasts of matches. The hologram system was rolled out in full the following season, allowing them to portray Messi's unbelievable talent and astonishing tricks before everyone's eyes right in the middle of actual matches. He would weave through befuddled opponents unable to touch the apparition being credited with goal after goal and delighting crowds on the way to his first Ballon d'Or award in 2009.
"This is why Messi could not produce the fine form he displayed for Barcelona with the Argentine national team," said a source within Argentina's football association. "They would not give us their technology. We tried to produce our own, but we simply have not been able to match theirs."
Though this created doubts from the public in Messi's alleged homeland, the rest of the world did not share them. Legendary players like Maradona sang his praises while Pele argued that Messi was not yet all that great. A rivalry with Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, seen as the closest match to Messi's talent and his antithesis as a personality, was independently invented by the press, driving interest further.
"It was remarkably sustainable," said our Barca source. "Everyone wants to believe that such a wonderful talent contained in such a likable and joyful little person exists, so as we do when watching a spectacular film, disbelief was suspended. Even by opponents."
When Barcelona's newly appointed manager Pep Guardiola produced trophy after trophy and Messi's scoring became more and more prolific, the lies were pushed to extremes. An actor was hired to handle public appearances and the many commercial opportunities.
"When [current Barcelona president Sandro] Rosell took control, he had grand ideas for Messi that went too far," one source added. "This is what forced Pep to leave after just three years. He was disillusioned by all of it and went off to New York."
Under Rosell, and with Guardiola's former assistant, Tito Vilanova, now in place as manager, a girlfriend and newborn baby were created for Messi. On the pitch, the updated hologram system was credited with 91 goals over the 2012 calendar year, surpassing Gerd Muller's record of 85 set in 1972 and setting Messi up for that fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or. The award was accepted by a stand-in wearing a garish dotted tuxedo to distract from the slight difference in physical appearance from the usual actor, who was on strike as he negotiated a new contract.
When asked why they chose this moment to reveal what will go down as one of the greatest hoaxes not only in sports history, but perhaps all of human history, our sources explained: "Because in a world with so many lies we began to feel guilty. The reality should be known. But we are also sure that no one will want to believe this, so our confession won't really make much difference."