Lionel Andres Messi was born in Rosario, Argentina on 24th June 1987. His upbringing was a modest one; his father was a steel worker and his mother a part-time cleaner. He grew up with his two older brothers Rodrigo and Matias and his sister Maria Sol. At the age of five, Messi started playing football for Grandoli, a local club coached by his father Jorge. It was clear to Messi’s father that Messi was exceptionally talented from a young age.
Messi’s first significant move occurred in 1995 when he moved to Newell’s Old Boys, who were based in his home city of Rosario. Newell’s Old Boys were a relatively small team but had many fantastic players play for them such as the legendary Diego Maradona. Messi became part of a local youth football powerhouse that lost only one match in the next four years. The Newell’s Old Boys youth team became locally known as “The Machine of 87″, with the 87 coming from the year that they were founded.
Messi came across a rather large obstacle when he was growing up that could have potentially ended his career. At the age of 11 crises struck as Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. River Plate, one of the top teams in Argentina, showed a huge interested in Messi’s progression. However they weren’t willing to pay the fees involved with Messi’s treatment for his growth deficiency, which cost $900 a month. It was then that Barcelona came into to save the footballing career of Lionel Messi. Carles Rexach, the sporting director of FC Barcelona, had been made aware of Messi’s talent as Messi had relatives in Lleida. Messi and his father were able to arrange a trial with the team. Barcelona was very interested in Messi but the board could not agree to sign the player. This led to Messi, his family and Rexach, who was trying to get a deal done, to grow increasingly frustrated with Barcelona. Rexach decided to meet with Messi and his Father at a local tennis club and with no other paper at hand, offered Messi a contract written on a paper napkin. Barcelona offered to pay for Messi’s medical bills if he was willing to move to Spain. This led to Messi and his father moving to Barcelona where Messi enrolled in the club’s youth academy.
Messi played in Barcelona’s junior Infantil B and Cadete B & A teams from 2000 to 2003. His best season was when he scored 37 goals in 30 matches in Cadete A. The 2003/04 season saw Messi on a record five different teams. He started one match in Juvenil B and scored a goal. He instantly got promoted to Juvenil A where he scored 21 goals in 14 games.
Later he debuted for FC Barcelona C team in the Tercera Division on 29 November 2003 and for FC Barcelona B in the Segunda Division on 6 March 2004. He played for both teams during the season. He played ten matches and scored five goals for the C team and played five games scoring zero goals in the B team. Even before these two debuts, Messi made his official debut for the first-team on 16 November 2003 aged 16 years and 145 days, in a friendly match against Porto.
Less than a year after his start, Frank Rijkaard gave Messi his league debut against RCD Espanyol on 16 October 2004. At 17 years and 114 days, Messi became the third-youngest player ever to play for Barcelona and youngest club player who played in La Liga, which would be broken by Bojan in September 2007. Messi then became the youngest player ever to score in a La Liga game for Barcelona When he scored his first senior goal against Albacete on 1 May 2005.
Barcelona announced an update to Messi’s contract during the 2005/06 season. It meant that Messi’s contract was improved to pay him as a first team member, his contract was also extended until June 2014. Messi obtained Spanish citizenship on 26 September 2005 and was finally able to make his debut in the La Liga. Messi netted six goals in 17 league appearances, and scored one Champions League goal in six appearances during the 2005/06 season. Unfortunately his season ended early on 7 March 2006, when he suffered a muscle tear in his right thigh during the second leg of a Champions League match against Chelsea.
In the 2006/07 season, Messi established himself as a regular first team player as he scored 14 times in 26 matches for Barcelona. However an injury again effected Messi’s season as suffered a broken metatarsal, ruling him out for three months. One of Messi highlights of the season came on 10 March in an El Clasico. Messi was in top form as he scored a hat-trick to earn 10-man Barcelona a 3–3 draw, with the final equaliser coming in added time. In scoring this hat-trick Messi became the first player since Ivan Zamorano, who played for Real Madrid, to score a hat-trick in El Clasico since the 1994/95 season. Messi also proved that the “new Maradona” tag was not all hype, as he replicated Maradona’s most famous goal which came against England. Messi scored an extremely similar goal in a match against Getafe CF.
The 2007/08 season was a momentous occasion for Messi has he played in his 100th official match for Barcelona against Valencia CF. Messi was nominated for a FIFA Pro World XI Player Award under the category of Forward. There was also a poll conducted in the online edition of the Spanish newspaper Marca which had him as the best player in the world with 77% of the vote. Messi made 40 appearances for Barcelona whilst scoring 16 goals. He also finished third in the Ballon d’Or, behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, and finished second in the FIFA World Player of the Year Award.
Upon Ronaldinho’s departure from Barcelona in the 2008/09 season, Messi inherited his number 10 jersey. Messi also helped Barcelona to three cups, the Copa del Rey, La Liga and Champions League. This was also the first time a Spanish club had ever won the treble. Messi finished this season with 38 goals and 18 assists in 51 appearances. He also came second in the FIFA World Player of the Year Award and won the UEFA Club Forward of the Year, along with the UEFA Club Player of the Year Award.
The 2009/10 season saw Messi move from the position of a right winger into his now iconic false number 9 role in the center of the front three. On 18 September, Messi signed a new contract with Barcelona, running until 2016 and with a buy-out clause of €250 million included. Messi played 53 games for Barcelona and scored an incredible 47 goals. This season all marked Messi’s first Ballon d’Or win, as he beat Cristiano Ronaldo to the prestigious award. He also finally managed to win the FIFA World Player of the Year Award after coming second for two consecutive years!
The 2010/11 season was again a spectacular season for Messi. He led Barcelona to another La Liga title and Champions League win. This was also the season which saw Barcelona win the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup. Messi made 55 appearances for Barcelona and scored 53 goals. This led to the little Argentine winning the Ballon d’Or trophy for a second year in a row.
The 2011/12 season was Messi best season yet as he scored 73 goals in 60 games for Barcelona. However Barcelona only managed to win the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup that season, as the La Liga title went to Real Madrid and the Champions League to Chelsea. Messi again won the Ballon d’Or and became the fourth player to win three Ballon d’Or awards, after Johan Cryuff, Michel Platini and Marco Van Basten.
This season Messi has once again played incredibly. He picked up his fourth Ballon d’Or and became the first ever player to do so. This is Messi best ever goal scoring season as he has scored 57 goals in 46 appearances with still more of the season to play. In 2012 Messi also broke Gerd Mullers record for the most goals in a calendar year. The record stood at 85 but it was smashed by Messi who managed 91 goals in 2012. Messi also looks set to take Barcelona to another La Liga title and possibly another Champions League triumph.
In my opinion Messi is the greatest ever footballer to grace the earth, closely followed by both Pele and Maradona. Messi is a remarkable player, who I feel privileged to be able to watch. Messi also looks on course to win another Ballon d’Or, then it surely cannot be disputed that he is the greatest ever footballer.
Can Messi make it five Ballon d’Or Awards?