Junior Messias has always raised his hands and head towards the heavens after scoring a goal.
Faith, as the Brazilian has said before, has always been very important to him.
Tuesday night was different, though. After heading home the goal that kept AC Milan’s Champions League hopes alive, Messias was visibly moved by what felt to hime like divine intervention.
How else to explain how a former delivery man had gone from playing semi-professional football in Serie D to netting the winner against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano in just three years?
It seems a lot of prayers have been answered. After all, Messias’ mother is a devout evangelist and had always believed that God had a plan for her son, even after he had been released by Cruzeiro in 2011.
“I thought God changed his plans and I needed to do something else,” he told Milan TV. “At 18, you usually already have your path mapped out becoming a footballer.
“But my mother told me even though I didn’t believe it anymore, I’d become a footballer in Europe. So, my mum is really happy, because you realise that God does exist.”
However, Messias’ remarkable rise to prominence is less a miracle, and more an inspirational example of the importance of patience, perseverance and hard work.
While his mother put her faith in the Almighty, his father taught him that nobody gifts you anything in life; you have to earn it.
“My father never put anything in my hands,” he explained. “He used to tell me: ‘If you want something, go get it’. He taught me how to live, I watched him, so I learned to work with him.
“I can do a bit of everything. I can lay bricks, I can do the electrics, a bit of everything.”
It was these skills that helped Messias make ends meet when he moved to Italy in 2011 as a 20-year-old, picking up whatever oddjobs he could.
He never stopped playing football but, during those early days in Piedmont, it became little more than a hobby that he pursued at weekends.
However, his talent didn’t go unnoticed. He was invited to play for Sport Warique, a team made up by Peruvian immigrants.
Messias explained that he couldn’t take up the offer because of his work commitments, which included recovering bricks from demolished buildings, but one of his prospective team-mates found him a delivery job for an electrical appliance store.
It was a pivotal moment in Messias’ life, because it was while playing for Sport Warique that he came to the attention of former Torino defender Ezio Rossi.
“I went to see him at the insistence of the coach as I was giving them a hand at the time,” the Italian told gianlucadimarzio.com.
“I invaded the pitch at the end of the game. I told him that someone like him couldn’t be playing there.”
So, he found him a team, securing Messias a €1,500-a-month contract with fifth-tier Casale that enabled the Brazilian to focus on football once again.
“I used to always take him in the car to the games from Torino and he dominated the season,” Rossi enthused. “He scored more than 20 goals and he was decisive in their league title win.”
Messias’ fine form earned him a move to another team in Piedmont, Chieri, where he continued to score freely, before being picked up by Serie D rivals Gozzano.
The goals began to dry up at that point but the quality of his performances did not drop, resulting in a move to Crotone – and Serie B – in 2019.
Often deployed as wide forward, Messias scored six times as the Calabrians secured promotion to the Italian top flight the very next year.
Incredibly, he fared even better in Serie A, with nine goals in 36 appearances for a side that ended up getting relegated.
Even then, though, few expected him to secure a summer switch to San Siro.
However, since returning to Milan as technical director, club legend Paolo Maldini has earned himself a reputation as a shrewd operator in the transfer market and he felt that Messias would prove a bargain buy.
Crotone were keen to do a deal, too, for two reasons.
Firstly, a €2.4m loan deal with a €5.6m option to buy, represented a decent bit of business for the demoted Squali. Then, there was the fact that Crotone president was also a Milan fan.
Nonetheless, the negotiations went right to the wire on deadline day.
“I didn’t sleep, I was waiting for news,” Messias revealed. “At 2.00 in the morning my agent called me, then I spoke to the President of Crotone, Maldini and [Frederic] Massara.
“I was really happy when the news arrived.”
All of a sudden, Messias, at 30 years of age, found himself sharing a dressing room with superstars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Unfortunately, he was hindered by injuries and didn’t make his first-team debut until October, against Atalanta.
Then, after his five-minute cameo in Bergamo, he suffered a second muscle tear which ruled him out for a further six weeks.
Messias got just over half an hour off the bench against Fiorentina last weekend, though, before being introduced in the 65th minute of Tuesday’s clash with Atletico with Milan needing a goal to avoid European elimination.
Messias provided it with just three minutes to go, camly rising to head home a superb cross from Franck Kessie to mark his Champions League debut with a precious winner.
“I felt like crying,” he told reporters afterwards. “Everything that I’ve experienced went through my mind. It was pure emotion.”
And beautiful to behold. There aren’t many stories like Messias’ in football anymore.
But just look at Ibrahimovic’s reaction to Messias’ winner in Madrid. The Swede has seen and done it all in football, and yet even he couldn’t help but break out into the biggest smile possible as he realised that Milan’s relatively unknown 30-year-old team-mate had just kept them in the Champions League.
This was a moment that reminded everyone that, sometimes, good things come to those who not only wait, but also work hard.
“He’s a good, honest kid,” Rossi said. “He has a strong spirituality: he raises his hands to the heavens when he scores to thank Jesus.”
And, happily, Tuesday night is unlikely to prove the last time we see Messias celebrate in a Milan shirt this season.
As he said in Madrid, “My story has been written by God.” And there are still a few more chapters to add.