Iranian student Reza Parastesh looks so much like his sporting hero Lionel Messi that it almost landed him in jail for disrupting public order.
So many people came out to take selfies with Parastesh in the western city of Hamedan that police rushed him into a station and impounded his car to stop the chaos and clear traffic.
The resemblance is so uncanny that Eurosport UK reportedly used his photo by accident on Twitter recently when talking about the real Messi.
Reza Parastesh is an Iranian understudy, native to the western city of Hamedan.
He is an ordinary 25-year-old guy, aside from one seemingly insignificant detail.
Parastesh is an Instagram VIP who has over one million followers. His striking likeness to Messi has made him an overnight star.
The Iranian man made the news in 2017 after he was accused of impersonation the former Barcelona player and bedded 23 women who thought he was genuinely Messi.
According to reports, the furore began a few months ago when Parastesh’s football-mad father pressured the 25-year-old into posing in a number 10 Barcelona jersey and sending the pictures to a sports website.
“I sent them one night and by the morning they had called me and said I should come in quickly for an interview,” he told AFP.
Despite his early reluctance, Parastesh soon grew into his new role, cutting his hair like Messi and often donning the Barca jersey when he goes out.
It has paid off — he is fully booked with media interviews and has even landed modelling contracts.
“Now people really see me as the Iranian Messi and want me to mimic everything he does. When I show up somewhere, people are really shocked,” he said.
Parastesh even trimmed his hair and developed his facial hair like the former Barca striker, elevating his likeness to Messi.
The photograph immediately circulated and became popular on the internet, acquiring Parastesh the moniker “counterfeit Messi”.
When interviewed in 2017, Parastesh said that he should have been a copy of Messi all over (not just in the face).
Regardless, as Medio Tiempo put it, his approval grew as quickly as his beard (and, clearly, Messi’s).
He was surrounded by people wanting to take photos with him – and police were attracted by the public disturbance. His car was impounded and he was rushed to the nearest police station.
Thankfully, he was later set free and has reportedly been offered modelling contracts and interviews since the incident.
While many of his experiences have been really amusing, Parastesh conveyed his uneasiness about the real harassment he has encountered.
He yearns to meet the veritable Lionel Messi later on. Taking everything into account, he acknowledges his prospects are meagre, and he questions whether the Argentinian legend thinks about his existence.
But he has hit back against the claims – insisting he has done nothing wrong, denied sleeping with 23 women after pretending to be the Barcelona superstar.
Claims made against Reza Parastesh, 26, went viral on social media suggesting he used his resemblance to trick the women.
Parastesh told Omasport: “The news is spreading in the Muslim countries and it has been a disaster.
“I was severely harassed because it released the whole world on me.
“My family also harassed me, but the people’s attack was more influential.”
The Tehran-based part-time model also released a video on his Instagram page with a further denial.
He added: “Hi friends, a piece of false news about me is trending on social media with regards to me sleeping with 23 women because they thought I was Lionel Messi.
“Please do not play with people’s reputation and credibility.
“We are all aware of the fact that if it actually happened to anyone, there would be some complaints and it would lead to my prosecution.
“That would be a disaster and a calamity of international proportion. If this news was true, I would be in jail right now.’