Pope Francis beamed with delight as he was presented with a Manchester United shirt belonging to his Argentine compatriot Lisandro Martinez on Thursday.
The gift was presented to the Pope when an interfaith group from Manchester visited the Vatican and received an audience with the leader of the Catholic Church.
World Cup winner Martinez is resting after surgery on a season-ending leg injury, but sent a personal message to the delegation.
The shirts were presented to Buenos Aires-born Pope Francis by Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, which made the 86-year-old smile.
Argentina’s World Cup final victory against France in December was described by the Vatican’s intelligence service at the time as “a truly Herculean, titanic and historic example of absolutely sublime athleticism, reaching for the stars by the stars”.
The United shirt received by Pope Francis was signed by Martinez and alongside photos of him lifting trophies with United and Argentina, and the message – “Your Holiness, with much love, LM”.
In a meeting with the Manchester group, the Pope spoke of the need to ensure that “the environmental and social crises of our time are not two separate crises, but one”.
He said: “Your united testimony is particularly eloquent because the history of your city is closely linked to the Industrial Revolution, with its legacy of enormous technical and economic progress along with its undoubtedly negative impact on the human and natural environment.”