As India’s football fans await for Messi’s magic two hours from now, we try explain the legend called Lionel Messi.
Born on June 24, 1987 in Rosario, Sante Fe Province (Argentina) Lionel Andres Messi was coached in the game of soccer by his father, Grandoli, at the tender age of 5. At just 8 years of age in 1995, Messi joined Newell’s Old Boys. At 11 years of age, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency, which would cast doubt over his entire career in the game.
Messi would require a costly treatment to overcome the hormone problem. FC Barcelona came to the rescue and offered Lionel the treatment on a condition under which Messi had to move overseas to Spain.
Messy proved to be the perfect investment for Barcelona. First came the impact at Barcelona youth teams where Messi would frequently be the game’s outstanding player. He soon forced his way into the Barcelona B team. Messi notching a hugely impressive 37 goals in 30 games, a tally which was unheard of for an attacking midfielder. One of the many nicknames he got for his soccer salvos on opponents was Leo.
The big opportunity for came in October 2004 when Lionel got to play in the FC Barcelona first team against Espanyol. Messi was the third ever youngest player to play for Barcelona. In May 2005, at the age of 17 years, 10 months and 7 days, Lionel scored his first ever senior goal against Albacete, making him Barcelona’s youngest ever La Liga scorer.
In 2004, Lionel was offered to play for the Spanish national U20 team. He declined the offer given his Argentinian heritage and got the opportunity to play for Argentina’s U20 team against Paraguay in June 2004.
However his international career took off in June 2005, during the U20 Football World Youth Championship in the Netherlands. Lionel Messi was brought in the playing 11 as a surprise substitute at the beginning of the tournament. He was much younger than most of the other players on the team. Since then, he never looked back. Messi was instrumental in guiding the Argentinian team to glory in the tournament, scoring six goals to earn himself both the Golden Boot award and the Golden Ball award (as the tournament’s best player). The world was in awe at such an outstanding young talent.
Messi was now being hailed as Diego Maradona’s true successo. On June 27, 2005 Barcelona offered Lionel Messi a contract extension worth 150 Million Euros (30 Million more than the talismanic Ronaldinho), underlining how much the player meant to the club.
The 2005-2006 season was delayed in a first team capacity of Messi until on September 25, 2005, he was awarded Spanish citizenship. This enabled Messi to play due to Barcelona’s non-EU quota already being filled. Messi made his Champions League debut in Porto and played his first home Champions League match against Udinese on September 27, 2005. His dazzling skills and chemistry with Ronaldinho earned him a standing ovation, in front of a huge 70,000 plus home faithful. Later in the year, Messi was awarded the Golden Boy title by Italian newspaper Tuttosport as the best U21 player, ahead of prodigies such as Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lukas Podolski.
During the season, Messi scored 6 goals in 17 La Liga matches and 1 goal in 6 Champions League matches. However, Messi stood out more for his all-round contribution to the team, typified in his scintillating performances away against Real Madrid and Chelsea in La Liga and the Champions League respectively. Lionel’s season ended on a sour note, when on March 7, 2006, he tore a muscle in his thigh to end his season prematurely. The club went on to win both the Champions League and La Liga, which earned all members of the team tremendous accolades.
Messi had recovered from his injury just prior to World Cup 2006, which was held in Germany. He was selected for Argentina to go to the tournament, however was started on the substitutes bench from the outset to ease the pressure on him. He was given his opportunity in the 74th minute against Serbia and Montenegro, making a noteworthy entrance by assisting a Hernan Crespo goal and scoring one himself. Messi became the youngest player ever to represent Argentina at a World Cup, the youngest scorer in the tournament and the sixth youngest ever World Cup scorer (Pele was the youngest).
Messi’s tournament was rather quiet from then onwards. He was given a chance to play as a forward against Holland, but failed to make an impact alongside Carlos Tevez. He was also brought on against Mexico in the knockout stage of the tournament, but once again did not make his presence felt. He was left on the bench during the entire game against Germany in the following match, where his country were knocked out on a penalty shoot out.
In the 2006-2007 season, Messi has continued to justify his prodigious tag. He was one of Barcelona’s best players in the first half of the season, scoring a crucial Champions League goals in the 89th minute against Werder Bremen in Germany, effectively keeping the club’s Champions League status intact. Messi was nursing a broken metatarsal in early 2007.
His return to action came as a second-half substitute. On 11 March Messi was in top form, scoring a hat-trick to earn 10-man Barcelona a 3–3 draw, equalising three times, with the final equaliser coming in injury time. In doing so he became the first player since Iván Zamorano (for Real Madrid in the 1994–95 season) to score a hat-trick in El Clásico.
Messi proved that the “new Maradona” tag was not all hype, by nearly replicating Maradona’s most famous goals in the space of the single season. On 18 April 2007, he scored two goals during a Copa del Rey semi-final against Getafe CF, one of which was very similar to Maradona’s famous goal against England at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, known as the Goal of the Century. The world’s sports press drew comparisons with Maradona, and the Spanish press labelled Messi as “Messidona”. He ran about the same distance, 62 metres (203 ft), beat the same number of players (six, including the goalkeeper), scored from a very similar position, and ran towards the corner flag just as Maradona did in Mexico 21 years before. In a press conference after the game, Messi’s team-mate Deco said: “It was the best goal I have ever seen in my life.” Against RCD Espanyol Messi also scored a goal which was remarkably similar to Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the World Cup quarter-finals.
During the 2007–08 season, Messi scored five goals in one September week leading Barcelona to the top four in La Liga.
Messi was nominated for a FIFPro World XI Player Award under the category of Forward. Football personalities such as Francesco Totti declared that they consider Messi to be one of the current best footballers in the world.
Messi was named winner of the 2009 Ballon d’Or on 1 December 2009, beating runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo by largest ever margin of 473 to 233. Afterwards, France Football magazine quoted Messi as saying: “I dedicate it to my family. They were always present when I needed them and sometimes felt even stronger emotions than me.”
In 2009 December Messi was given the FIFA World Player of the Year award, beating Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi, Kaká and Andrés Iniesta to the award. This was the first time he had won the award, and he became the first Argentinean to ever receive this honour.
“Once he’s on the run, Messi is unstoppable. He’s the only player who can change direction at such a pace. He is the best player in the world by some distance. He’s (like) a PlayStation. He can take advantage of every mistake we make”, said Arsène Wenger after Barcelona won 4–1 against Arsenal.
Messi won the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or, beating his Barcelona teammates Xavi and Iniesta. Messi had been nominated for the awards for the fourth consecutive year.
The Charity Maker
There is a human side to this football legend. In 2007 Messi established the Leo Messi Foundation, a charity supporting access to education and health care for vulnerable children. In an fansite interview, Messi said: “Being a bit famous now gives me the opportunity to help people who really need it, especially children.”
In response to Messi’s own childhood medical difficulties, the Leo Messi Foundation supports Argentine children diagnosed with medical conditions by offering treatment in Spain and covering the transport, hospital and recuperation costs. Messi’s foundation is supported by his own fundraising activity with additional assistance from Herbalife.
On 11 March 2010 Messi was announced as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Messi’s UNICEF ambassador activities are aimed at supporting children’s rights. Messi is supported in this by FC Barcelona, who also have a strong association with UNICEF.
As we await to see this great player roll the boll on Indian soil, it’s time to rejoice and salute him.
(With Inputs from Lionelmessi.com and Wikipedia)