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Player Profile: Lionel Messi, the true football legend

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images
Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Currently the best player in the world alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi has taken the football world by storm since making his debut for Barcelona in the 2004/05 season.

Early Life

Messi was born into a working class family on 24 June, 1987 in Rosario, Argentina. While his father Jorge worked in a steel factory, his mother Celia worked as a part-time cleaner.

The Argentine, who has two older brothers (Rodrigo and Matias) and a younger sister (Maria Sol), began showing footballing potential at a very young age, when he started playing for a local club Grandoli (coached by his father) at the age of five.

By the time he was eight, Messi was signed by Newell’s Old Boys (a top club in Argentina).However, tragedy soon struck as Messi, who always looked distinctly smaller than most boys his age, was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at the age of 11.

Despite showing a lot of flair in Newell’s Old Boys’ youth programs, the club decided to drop him as they did not want to pay for his expensive medications. Messi’s parents tried to provide the medications (routine growth-hormone injections) for their son, but they could not afford it, due to the costs amounting to around 1000 Argentinean pesos per month.

However, Messi luck drastically changed after his family decided to move to Spain in 2000.

Early Career

The Messi family, who had relatives in Catalonia, managed to get their son get a trail at FC Barcelona at the age of 13. While Charly Rexach (the then sporting director) was immediate impressed with the youngster’s skills, the board of directors hesitated to offer him a contract, as at the time clubs did not normally sign foreign players at such a young age.

However, they finally agreed and the Messi family permanently relocated to Spain, where they stayed in an apartment close to the Nou Camp.

Messi’s first year in Spain did not prove to be fruitful as a transfer dispute with Newell’s Old Boys meant that Barcelona could only field the Argentine during friendlies games.

Without regular football, Messi struggled to get along with his new teammates, due to him having a quiet nature. He also had difficulties with homesickness, after his mother and siblings moved back to Argentina.

However, Messi’s fortunes soon began to change after Barcelona (following their settlement with Newell’s Old Boys) managed to enroll the youngster in the Spanish Football Federation in 2002.

With regular football and the successful completion of his growth hormone treatment at the age of 14, Messi soon became a key figure in his team, which started being dubbed as Barcelona’s greatest ever youth squad.

During his first full season in 2002/03, Messi helped his side lift the treble (Spanish youth league, Spanish youth cup and Catalan cup) after scoring 36 goals in 30 games in all competitions.

Soon after, he received a tempting offer from EPL side Arsenal, but instead of moving to England like his teammates Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique, he opted to remain in Barcelona.

Professional Career

In the 2003/04 season (his fourth at Barcelona), Messi finally made his debut for the first team at the age of 16 years, during a friendly against Jose Mourinho’s Porto.  Although he was brought in as a substitute in the 75th minute, he impressed a lot of people with his performances, creating two chances and a getting a shot on goal.

Despite his impressive performance on his first team debut, Messi was not recalled to the senior team for the remainder of the season, with him mostly Barcelona B in the Segunda División B.

However, he was soon handed his first professional contract on 4 February 2004, with an initial buyout clause of €30 million (which later increased to €80 million).

The next season (2004–05) Messi sealed his place in the Barcelona B team, making 17 appearances and scoring six goals in the Segunda División B.

Messi’s was finally promoted to the first team after many senior players including Ronaldinho persuaded Frank Rijkaard (the then manager of Barcelona) to give him a chance.

Finally Messi became the youngest Barcelona player (in the history of the club) to appear in a competitive fixture, as he made his La Liga debut against Espanyol on 16 October 2004, coming in as a substitute in the 82nd minute.

The Argentine also became the youngest goal scorer for Barcelona that season, after he found the nets in a La Liga fixture against Albacete.

The next season, Messi signed a new five-year contract on his birthday, increasing his buyout clause to €150 million.  Messi was very impressive in the preseasons as he was well received by fans especially after his superb performances during a friendly against Juventus.

Barcelona faced a big risk of losing Messi that summer, after a lot of clubs including  Inter Milan and Juventus (who offered to meet the buy-out clause in his contract) tried to tempt him with better wages, but the Argentine remained loyal to the Catalan club.

After missing the start of the 2005/06 season due to some issues regarding his legal status in the Spanish Football Federation, Messi managed to establish himself as the first-choice right winger, forming an excellent partnership with Ronaldinho and Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o.

However, Messi’s season ended prematurely after he suffered from a torn hamstring during a Champions League fixture against Chelsea. Finally the season ended with Messi scoring 8 goals from 25 appearances in all competitions.

While Barcelona’s form saw a sudden decline in the succeeding season, Messi continued to shine, with the Argentine becoming the Catalan club’s new star at the age of 20.

Messi, who ended the season scoring 17 goals from 36 games in all competitions, was voted third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and winner Kaká in the 2006 Ballon d’Or awards, while he finished second behind Kaka in the FIFA World Player of the Year award.

The 2007/08 did not prove to be a very good one for Messi as he was plagued with recurring injuries in the second half of the season. Still, he managed to net 16 goals from 40 appearances in all competitions.

The next season (2008/09) Rijkaard was ousted from the club, and under new boss Pep Guardiola, Messi reached his full potential. While Messi had been plagued by frequent injuries in the last two seasons, Barcelona’s new training, nutrition, and lifestyle regimens along with a personal physiotherapist for the Argentine, saw him remain fit for the entire season.

Messi played a key role, scoring 38 goals from 51 appearances as Barcelona became the first Spanish club to lift a treble after winning the La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League.

His performances in the 2007/08 season saw him narrowly lose the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year award to Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

In the next four succeeding seasons Messi became even more lethal as he went on to score 233 goals in only 218 appearances in all competitions to help Barcelona win even more trophies.

Messi, who received many awards during this period, won the Ballon d’Or for a record breaking four successive seasons (in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012).

In the 2013/14 season, however, Messi’s form began to show a little dip as the forward, who had remained virtually injury free for the last four years, again started having fitness issues.

Despite the forward ending the season with 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions, statically his (goals, shots, and passes) saw a significant dip. The season also proved to be a poor one for Barcelona, as the club failed to win any major silverware for the first time in five years.

After a very disappointing 2013/14 season, Barcelona were again tipped to do poorly, especially with there being persistent rumours of Messi leaving the club.

However, under new boss Luis Enrique, Messi regained his lost form as again played a key role, scoring 58 goals from 57 appearances, to help Barcelona lift their second treble.

Despite managing to make a bright start this season, scoring both the goals during Barcelona’s win over Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup, Messi has again been struggling with injuries, with the forward getting ruled out for almost two months, following a tear in the collateral ligament of his left knee on 26 September.

International Career

Although Messi was eligible to play for Spain as well as Argentine due to him holding a dual citizenship, the forward opted to play for La Albiceleste.

Messi made his debut for the senior team in August 2005 against Hungary, after he was called up by José Pékerman (the then head coach of Argentine).

However, his debut did not go smoothly as he was sent off after only two minutes (since coming on in the 63rd minute) due to him elbowing an opponent.

Messi’s first major international tournament came in the form of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where he was used sparingly as a substitute. However, he did manage to net a goal during Argentina’s 6-0 win over Serbia and Montenegro.

Finally Argentina exited the World Cup after losing to hosts Germany (on penalties) in the quarterfinals. After the World Cup, Pékerman received a lot of criticism back home for not including Messi in the quarterfinals.

As Messi transformed into one of the best players of the World, his place in Argentina’s squad for the 2007 Copa América was easily guaranteed. With the likes of Juan Román Riquelme, Carlos Tevez and Messi in the squad, Argentina were the favourites to life the 2007 Copa América.

However, Argentina, despite doing well in the tournament, unexpectedly lost 0-3 Brazil in the final, despite the latter having a depleted squad, with several of their key players missing. The La Albiceleste were subject to a lot of criticism, but no one blamed Messi, who was named as the best young player of the tournament.

Barcelona had issues with Messi representing Argentina in the 2008 Summer Olympics in China, due to the tournament clashing with the Catalan’s Champions League qualifying games. However, in the end, Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola allowed Messi to team up with Sergio Batista’s Under-23 squad in Beijing. Messi finally won his first major international trophy as Argentina beat Nigeria 1-0 to win gold in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

After their triumph in the 2008 Olympics, Argentina’s form began to decline under new manager Diego Maradona as they barely managed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Despite their poor form during qualifying Argentina played well in the main tournament, with Messi playing a key role to help his side win all their group games against Nigeria, South Korea and Greece.

Messi again played well during his side’s 3-1 win over Mexico in the round of sixteen. However, Argentina were knocked out of the 2010 World Cup following their humiliating 0-4 defeat to Germany in the quarterfinals.

Messi’s performance in his next major international competition – the 2011 Copa América – was below bar, as the La Albiceleste exited the tournament following their defeat to Uruguay in the quarterfinals.

After Argentina’s poor display in the 2011 Copa América, Alejandro Sabella was appointed as the new head coach. Messi’s goalscoring form drastically improved under Sabella, as he was made the new captain of Argentina. While he had only managed 17 goals in 61 matches under previous Argentina head coaches, he went on to score 25 goals in 32 appearances in the next three years under Sabella.

Ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, everyone was skeptical of Messi’s form, due to the forward not doing well with Barcelona in 2013/14. However, he proved all doubters wrong as he played excellently to help Argentina top their group.

In the knocked out stages, Messi again played a key role as he assisted a late goal to help Argentina narrowly beat Switzerland in the round of sixteen. Soon after, he scored a match winning goal against Belgium in the quarter-finals. After a tough game against Holland in the semifinals, Argentina booked a place in the finals for the first time since 1990.

However, Argentina were finally defeated by Germany in the final, with Messi missing several opportunities to find the nets. Despite his lack of goals in the 2014 World Cup, Messi won the Golden Ball.

Soon after the disappointment of the 2014 World Cup, Argentina entered the 2015 Copa America as the favourites. After leading his team out of the first round as group winners, Messi, despite being unable to find the nets due to David Ospina’s excellent goalkeeping, played well in the quarter-finals as Argentina advanced to the semifinals, beating Colombia on penalties.

Messi was absolutely brilliant in the semifinals as he was involved in all the goals during Argentina’s crushing 6-1 over Paraguay. However, Messi was unable to inspire Argentina to a victory in the final as Chile won the tournament on 1-4 penalties, following a goalless draw.

Awards and Accolades

FIFA Ballon d’Or: 2010, 2011, 2012

Ballon d’Or (before the award was merged): 2009

FIFA World Player of the Year: 2009

FIFA World Cup Golden Ball: 2014

World Soccer World Player of the Year: 2009, 2011, 2012

FIFPro Young Player of the Year: 2006, 2007, 2008

World Soccer Young Player of the Year: 2006, 2007, 2008

European Golden Shoe: 2010, 2012, 2013

UEFA Club Footballer of the Year: 2009

UEFA Club Football Award for Best Forward: 2009

UEFA Best Player in Europe Award: 2011, 2015

El País Best Player in Europe: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Onze d’Or: 2009, 2011, 2012

Golden Boy: 2005

Bravo Award: 2007

UEFA Goal of the Year: 2007

UEFA Goal of the Season: 2015–16

UEFA Champions League Goal of the Season: 2014–15

Olimpia de Plata Argentine Footballer of the Year Award: 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Olimpia de Oro Argentine Sportsperson of the Year Award: 2011

Copa América Young Player of the Tournament: 2007

Pichichi Trophy: 2010, 2012, 2013

LFP Award for Best Player: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015

LFP Award for Best Forward: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015

Trofeo Alfredo Di Stéfano: 2009, 2010, 2011

Trofeo EFE for Best Ibero-American Player in La Liga: 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Don Balón Award for Best Foreign Player: 2007, 2009, 2010

 

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