At the age of 7, Lionel Messi joined the Newells Old Boys team in his native Rosario where he was already showing unmatched promise and talent. However, at the age of 11 Lionel was diagnosed with a hormone deficiency that would stunt his bone growth. His family could not afford the treatment but fortunately his talent had caught the eye of FC Barcelona sporting director Carles Rexach who offered to pay for Messi’s treatment if the young talent signed for Barça. It was an easy decision for the Messi family and in 2000 he and his family flew to Camp Nou and moved to Europe.
Barcelona Youth Period
In September 2000, a 13-year-old Messi went to Barcelona for a trial with only 140 cm in height. Messi’s performance in the trial impressed the Barcelona youth team coach, and the club was so excited by the young talent that they offered him a 12-year contract, forgetting FIFA regulations which state that players under the age 20 cannot sign more than a 5-year contract with the club. Barcelona had made tremendous efforts to help Messi grow, and under the treatment arranged by the club, Messi reached 169 cm by 2003.
Early Years in the First Team
On 16 September 2003, Lionel Messi made his official first-team debut in a friendly against Porto at the age of 16. One year later on 16 October 2004 Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard gave Messi his Primera Liga debut against RCD Espanyol, becoming the youngest club player to ever play in La Liga (a record later broken by Bojan Krkić in 2007) as well as the third-youngest player to ever play for Barcelona. 1 May 2005, at 17 years, ten months and seven days old, Messi scored his first senior goal against Albacete Balompié and became the youngest goal player in to ever score in a La Liga game for Barcelona (another record that was later broken by Bojan Krkić in 2007).
“I’ll never forget the fact that he launched my career, that he had confidence in me while I was only 16 or 17.”- Messi on his ex-coach Rijkaard.
On 16 September, Barcelona announced an update to Messi’s contract for the second time in three months. This time his contract was improved to pay him as a first team member and extended until June 2014. Messi he obtained Spanish citizenship in September 2005 and as a result was able to make his debut in the season’s Spanish First Division. On 27 September Messi experienced his first home outing in the Champions League against Italian club Udinese. The fans at Camp Nou gave Messi a standing ovation when he was substituted, after his exceptional ball control and deadly passing combinations with Ronaldinho had given Barça the upper hand in the match. Unfortunately Messi’s season ended prematurely on 7 March 2006 after he suffered a muscle tear in his right thigh during a tie against Chelsea in the second round of the Champions League. Messi ended the season with six goals in 17 league appearances as well as one goal in six Champions League appearances. Rijkaard’s Barcelona would go on to finish the season without Messi as European and Spanish champions.
“I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentinian football and his name is Messi.” - Diego Maradona on 18-year-old Messi, February 2006.
Messi netted 14 goals in 26 match appearances in what would go down as a defining season in his career. He proved himself invaluable to Barcelona on 10 March after becoming the first the first player since Iván Zamorano (Real Madrid, 1994–95 season) to score a hat-trick in El Clásico as well as the youngest player to ever score in the famous fixture.
Messi went on to reaffirm comparisons to his idol Maradona by replicating the former player’s most famous goals in the space of a single season. On 18 April 2007, he scored two goals against Getafe CF in the Copa del Rey sem-final, one of which was very similar to Maradona’s Goal of the Century against England during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. He ran a similar distance of 62 metres (203 ft), dribbled past the same number of players (six, including the goalkeeper), scored from a similar position and ran towards the right corner before shooting just as Maradona had done 21 years prior. After the game, Messi’s teammate Deco said the goal was “the best goal I have ever seen in my life”. This goal earned Messi the nickname “Messidona” in the Spanish media.
Later in the season Messi scored a goal against RCD Espanyol that was strikingly similar to Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the World Cup quarter-finals. He threw himself at the ball and connected with his hand to guide it past goalkeeper Carlos Kameni. Video replays showed that it was a clear handball, but despite protests from Espanyol players the goal stood.
This season Messi was the runner up for the FIFPro World XI Player Award, just as he was the season before, behind Kaká. He also finished third in the 2007 Ballon d’Or, behind Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo. Writers from Catalonia-based newspapers Sport and El Mundo Deportivo claimed that the Ballon d’Or award should have gone to Messi, a claim that was supported by big names in football such as German manager Franz Beckenbauer and Italy international Francesco Totti. He also came in third in the IFFHS World’s Best Playmaker Award, behind Kaká and Andrea Pirlo. Spanish newspaper Marca had declared Messi the best player in the world in its polls, with the rising star gaining 77% of the vote.
On 27 February 2008, Messi played his 100th official match for Barcelona against Valencia CF. A few days later he was outed for six weeks due to an injury on 4 March when he suffered another muscle tear in his left thigh during a Champions League clash with Celtic FC. It was the fourth time in three seasons that Messi had suffered an injury of this nature. Messi netted 6 goals and 1 assist during the Champions League that season, as Barcelona were knocked out in the semi-finals, to eventual winners Manchester United.
Messi finished the season with 16 goals and assisted 13 assists in all competitions.
Messi inherited his famous number 10 jersey from Ronaldinho after his departure from the club, marking what would be the beginning of another landmark season for Messi with Barcelona full of league titles and personal accolades.
In 2009, Messi scored twice to cap a 6–2 win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu in what was Madrid’s worst defeat since 1930. He won his first Copa del Rey on 13 May in a 4–1 victory over Athletic Bilbao and finished the competition with 6 goals and 2 assists. Messi went on to helped his team win the double by winning La Liga, scoring league 23 goals and providing 11 assists that season. On 27 May he helped Barcelona win the Champions League by scoring a second goal during the 70th minute of the final, giving Barcelona a two goal lead; he also became the top scorer in the Champions League (and the youngest in the tournament’s history) with nine goals. With Messi’s help Barcelona had won the Copa del Rey, La Liga and Champions League all in one season; the first time a Spanish club had ever won the ‘Treble’.
Messi won second place in the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year award and third in the 2008 IFFHS World’s Best Playmaker Award for the second consecutive year, also placing second in the 2008 Ballon d’Or behind Cristiano Ronaldo, once again. At the end of 2009, he was voted both European Player of the Year and World Player of the Year. Messi also won the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year and the UEFA Club Forward of the Year awards to round off a spectacular year in Europe.
After winning the 2009 UEFA Super Cup, Barça manager Pep Guardiola declared that Messi was the best player he had ever seen. This was also the season in which Guardiola first moved Messi from the position of right winger into his iconic “false-9″ role at the center of the front line. On 18 September, Messi signed a new contract with Barcelona, extending until 2016, with a buy-out clause of €250 million, making Messi one of the highest paid players in the league.
Messi won his first Ballon d’Or on 1 December 2009, beating runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo in votes by the largest ever margin of 473 to 233. On 21 December, Messi was named the FIFA World Player of the Year, beating Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Xavi, and Andrés Iniesta. It was his first time winning this award as well, and he became the first Argentine to ever receive the honor.
On 6 April 2010, for the first time in Messi’s career he scored four goals in a single game, netting all four in a 4–1 home victory against Arsenal in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final. The conquest saw him finish the season with 8 goals, becoming the Champions League’s top scorer for the second consecutive year. This also saw Messi overtake Rivaldo as Barcelona’s all time highest scorer in the competition.
On 21 August 2010, Messi scored a hat-trick in his first match of the season in a 4–0 victory over Sevilla FC in the Supercopa de España, helping Barcelona win their first trophy of the season.
On 19 September 2010, Messi suffered an ankle injury due to an aggressive tackle by Atlético Madrid defender Tomáš Ujfaluši. It was at first feared that Messi had suffered a broken ankle that could have outed the star for at least six months, but MRI performed the next day in Barcelona showed he suffered a less serious sprain. Team-mate David Villa said “the tackle on Messi was brutal” but also added that he believed Ujfaluši “didn’t go into the tackle to hurt”.
Messi won his second FIFA Ballon d’Or (2010), beating his Barcelona teammates Xavi and Iniesta.
Messi scored his eighth El Clásico goal in a 1–1 draw at the Santiago Bernabéu. He finished the season as the top assist provider, with 18 assists, 31 goals and the La Liga title.
On 20 April, Barcelona suffered a 1–0 defeat at the hands of rivals Real Madrid in the 2011 Copa del Rey Final. Messi was the joint top-scorer of the tournament along with Cristiano Ronaldo, with both players netting 7 goals.
In the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals, Messi scored twice against Real Madrid in a 2–0 win, the second goal (a dribble past several players) being hailed as one of the best ever at that stage of the competition. At the Champions League Final at Wembley, Messi scored the eventual game-winning goal to give Barcelona their third title in six years and fourth overall.
Messi finished the 2010–11 season with a total of 53 goals and 24 assists across all competitions.
Messi started the season by winning the Spanish Supercup with Barcelona. On 28 September, Messi scored his first two Champions League goals of the season against BATE Borisov, becoming Barcelona’s second highest goalscorer in its history, tying László Kubala, at 194 goals in all official competitions. He surpassed that record when he scored two goals against Racing Santander. He became second in Barcelona’s La Liga goalscorers list with 132 goals. He scored his 200th Barcelona goal as part of a hat-trick in his next game against Viktoria Plzeň in the Champions League.
Messi scored twice in the Club World Cup Final against Santos and was recognised as the man of the match as well as being awarded the Golden Ball for his performance throughout the tournament. He also won the 2011 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, beating his team-mate Xavi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi won the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or, again beating team-mate Xavi and rival Cristiano Ronaldo. By winning the FIFA Ballon d’Or again, Messi become the fourth player to win three Ballon d’Or awards, after Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten and the second player to win three consecutive Ballons d’Or, after Michel Platini.
On 7 March, Messi became the first player to score five goals in a UEFA Champions League match since the tournament’s re-establishment in 1992, helping Barcelona secure a 7–1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen.
On 20 March, after scoring three goals against Granada, Messi became FC Barcelona’s leading goalscorer in all official competitions, surpassing club legend César Rodríguez, who had previously held the record with 232.
“For the world of football, he is a treasure because he is a role model for children around the world. In the space of half a metre, he can move right or left – it is like he has the ball attached to his body. Maradona was also a little bit like this, and it could be because they are both low centre of gravity.” – Dutch legend Johan Cruyff after Messi set a new goal-scoring record for Barcelona, March 2012.
He then scored four goals on 5 May against RCD Espanyol to take his season tally to an unprecedented 72 goals, in the process becoming only the second player in the history of football to pass 70 goals in a first division season since Archie Stark of Bethlehem Steel in the American Soccer League in 1924–25.
On 25 May, he scored again in the 2012 Copa del Rey Final, helping Barcelona win their 26th Spanish Cup title, and increased his seasonal goalscoring record to an unmatched 73 goals in all competitions. Messi finished the 2011–12 season as the top goalscorer in La Liga for a second time, with 50 goals in the competition. He also ended the season as the UEFA Champions League Top Scorer for a fourth consecutive time, with 14 goals. In total Messi’s season ended with 73 goals and 29 assists across all club competitions, netting both more goals and more assists than any other player.
Messi scored from a free kick in the second leg of the Supercopa de España, as Barcelona, down to ten men, were defeated by Real Madrid on away goals. This marked his 15th El Clásico goal, which made him Barcelona’s top scorer in Clásico matches, putting behind only Alfredo Di Stefano, with 18 goals. Messi placed second along with Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2012 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, with 17 votes each. The award was won by Messi’s Barcelona team mate Andrés Iniesta.
On 1 December, Messi scored twice against Athletic Bilbao, his 83rd and 84th goals of the year. The two goals saw Messi match Barcelona’s all-time goalscoring record in La Liga, which was held by César Rodríguez with 190 goals. On 9 December, Messi scored twice against Real Betis, surpassing German legend Gerd Müller’s all-time Guinness World Record of 85 goals scored in a calendar year (set in 1972 with Bayern Munich and the German national team). The goals also saw Messi surpass Rodríguez’s record for most league goals for Barcelona. After breaking Müller’s legendary record, Messi sent him a No.10 Barcelona jersey, signed “with respect and admiration”. In the next week Messi scored twice against Córdoba CF and twice against Atlético Madrid, boosting his new record to 90 goals. On 18 December 2012, Barcelona announced they would renew Messi’s contract, extending it until 30 June 2018.
On 7 January 2013 Messi won the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or, again beating Cristiano Ronaldo into second place with team-mate Andrés Iniesta third. In doing this, Messi became the only player in history to win the Ballon d’Or four times. He described achieving the honor as “too great for words”. The feat spurred media comparison of Messi to footballing legends Pelé and Diego Maradona.
On 27 January 2013, Messi scored his 200th goal in La Liga in a 5–1 victory over Osasuna, becoming the eighth and youngest player to do so. 16 February 2013, Messi scored his 300th Barcelona goal against Granada CF, later scoring again in the match to bring his overall tally to 301 goals in 365 official matches. On 2 March 2013, Messi scored a goal against Real Madrid in a match that Barcelona lost 2–1. With that goal, Lionel Messi equalled Alfredo Di Stefano’s El Clásico goal record of 18. 9 March 2013, Messi scored against Deportivo de La Coruña, scoring in his 17th consecutive league match and breaking the all-time world record. Messi’s record consecutive goalscoring run of 33 goals in 21 games later ended against Atletico Madrid.
17 March 2013, Messi wore the captain’s armband for the first time in an official match for Barcelona, taking over after Andrés Iniesta was substituted in a match against Rayo Vallecano. On 30 March, Messi scored for his 19th consecutive La Liga game and thus became the first footballer in the history of La Liga to score in consecutive matches against every team.
Messi once again finished as La Liga’s top scorer for the second year running, with 46 goals and 12 assists in the competition. Messi totalled 60 goals and 16 assists across all competitions in the season.
Messi began his La Liga season on 18 August 2013 with two goals against Levante UD, in a match Barcelona would win 7–0. On 28 August, Barça won their 11th Supercopa de España title over Atlético Madrid. On 1 September, Messi scored the 23rd hat-trick of his career in a 3–2 win over Valencia CF. These goals saw him become the first player in La Liga history to score 100 away goals as well as the highest ever scorer in away fixtures in the history of the competition. These goals also made Messi the sixth-highest goalscorer in the history of La Liga. On 18 September 2013, Messi netted the 24th hat-trick of his career during Barça’s first Champions League win of the season, against Ajax, which ended 4–0. The goals made him the second-highest goalscorer of all time in the Champions League, with 62 goals, only behind Raúl, and the fourth-highest goalscorer of all time in European Competitions, with 63. With the hat-trick Messi also became the first player to score four hat-tricks in the Champions League. On 10 November, Messi suffered his third injury of the season which would see him sidelined until January 2014.
On 8 January 2014, Messi returned from injury to score twice for Barça in a 4–0 Copa del Rey win against Getafe. On 13 January, he placed second in the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or, behind rival Cristiano Ronaldo. On 15 February, Messi scored twice against Rayo Vallecano in a 6–0 win to overtake fellow Argentine Alfredo di Stéfano and match Raúl as the third-highest scorer in La Liga’s history, with 228 goals. On 16 March 2014, Messi scored a hat-trick in a 7–0 victory over Osasuna to overtake Paulino Alcántara as Barcelona’s top goalscorer in all competitions, friendlies included. On 23 March, he scored another hat-trick in a 4–3 win against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu to become the outright all-time top goalscorer in El Clásico fixtures, ahead of Di Stefano. These goals also saw him become the second highest goalscorer in La Liga.
Messi finished this season with only one trophy, the Spanish Super Cup. He was also the top scored in the Copa del Rey, although Barça were defeated by Real Madrid in the final. Messi’s season concluded with a total of 41 goals and 15 assists across all competitions.
Messi opened his season by scoring twice in a 3-0 victory over Elche CF. In his next match against Villareal CF, he assisted Sandro’s match-winning goal, despite suffering a hip injury during the clash. On 27 September, Messi scored his 400th career goal, aged 27, in a 6–0 win over Granada CF. In a post-match press conference he was praised by his new coach Luis Enrique, who stated: “It’s like Messi was touched by a magic wand.”
On 18 October, Messi scored his 250th La Liga goal in a 3-0 home win over SD Eibar. This goal placed Messi one goal from matching Telmo Zarra’s all-time La Liga goalscoring record of 251 goals. Previously that week, on 16 October, Messi had celebrated the 10th anniversary of his Barcelona debut. On 5 November, he scored both goals in Barça’s 2-0 win against Ajax, taking his team to the knock-out stage of the Champions League with two games remaining. The goals increased Messi’s total Champions League goal tally to 71, matching Raúl’s UEFA Champions League goal-scoring record. On 22 November Messi netted a hat-trick in a 5–1 win against Sevilla to become the all-time top goal scorer in La Liga with 253 goals, breaking the Telmo Zarra’s record of 251 held since 1955. Three days later, he scored another hat-trick in a 4–0 win against APOEL Nicosia to become the outright top scorer in the history of the UEFA Champions League with 74 goals.
On 7 December 2014, Messi scored his third consecutive hat-trick in Barcelona’s 5-1 home victory over local rivals RCD Espanyol, which allowed him to surpass Cesár as the top goalscorer in the Derbi barceloní, with 12 goals. On 11 January 2015, Barcelona’s new “deadly trio” of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez scored in a 3–1 home victory against defending La Liga champions Atlético Madrid.
Messi placed second in the 2014 FIFA Ballon d’Or, behind rival Cristiano Ronaldo, for the second consecutive year.