ARGENTINA: Lionel Messi, the man with infinite possibilities, what else can be said? A man who carried the dream of winning the World Cup for his country after the great Diego Maradona won it in 1986 in Mexico.
Born on 24th June 1987 in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina, to Jorge Messi and Celia Cuccittini. The couple had four kids, of whom Lionel was the third. As he grew up in a football-loving family, it was obvious to gain excitement and eagerness to play football.
At a very early age, he joined the local club Grandoli, where he was perhaps coached by his father, but he seemed to give the credit for his ever-increasing interest in football to his beloved maternal grandmother, Celia. Later on, Messi went on to join the Newell’s Old Boys club in Rosario and made fame for himself by scoring almost 500 goals for the club.
As he was on his path to becoming the best professional player, he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency. This news shook the whole family, as well as Messi. His father tried to get medical attention towards this but was only able to get it for two years as per his health insurance. They could not afford any further treatment after that. His club Newell’s first agreed to pay for his treatment but, later on, refused to do so.
Messi’s family had some relatives based out of Catalonia, Spain. They sought to arrange a trial with Barcelona in September of 2000. The First Team director wanted to immediately sign this young talent, but the board of directors were hesitant to do so. On 14th December 2000, for the first time ever in football history, a contract was given to a player on a paper napkin. It was written by the director Carles Rexach. This turned out to be the groundbreaking moment for what Messi was certainly going to achieve with the club thereafter.
Barcelona: His second home
After Messi received his contract, his family relocated to Spain, near the Barcelona home ground, the famous Camp Nou, where he went on to exhilarate the crowd for much more years to come. During his first year at the Youth Academy, La Masia, he did not play much due to a transfer conflict from his older club Newell’s. He was only able to play in friendlies and the Catalan Leagues.
Later on, in 2002, he enrolled in RFEF (Royal Spanish Football Federation). As he now played in more competitions, he became good friends with his then teammates Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué. Barcelona also handled his treatment costs which proved to be critical as he went on to play a first full season in 2002-03 and went on to score 36 goals to become the top scorer for Cadetes A.
He made his international debut on 17th August 2005 against Hungary and went on to score his first goal against Croatia the year after. He later on, went on to win the gold for the Argentines in the 2008 Beijing Games.
Barcelona: Rise to the Top
Messi finally made it to the first team during a match with Jose Mourinho’s Porto on 16th November 2003. Ronaldinho, the then star of Barcelona, impressed by Messi’s gameplay and creativity, ultimately paved his way to the first team. He made his league debut against Espanyol, coming in the 82nd minute. He was the youngest player to represent Barca in an official competition. He made his Champions League Debut against Shakhtar Donetsk.
The First Treble
In the 2008-09 season, after the departure of his friend Ronaldinho, he was ultimately given the number 10 shirt. He also was the highest-paid Barca player at that time. Messi kept improving from there on to help Barca win the Copa Del Rey, Laliga and the Champions League by defeating Manchester United to complete the treble under Pep Guardiola. Later on, he also went on to win the Ballon d’Or for four consecutive years until 2012.
2012 was a record-breaking year as Messi scored 91 goals in a single calendar year which is still a record. In the 2014-15 season, he again won the Champions League and completed the treble once again.
A string of events with the national team
He played for the first time in the World Cup in 2006. They went on to play four more, scoring in each of them. He led the team to the final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup but ultimately lost to Germany. He has also played in Copa America and led them to finals in 2015 and 2016, which they lost again. He decided to retire from the international team in 2016 and soon returned to play in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
In 2019, Messi went on to win the record sixth Ballon d’Or and later on went on to win it again for a record seventh- time in 2021 with PSG. He has also won the Golden Ball at two World Cups in 2014 and 2022, making him the only player to do so.
The End of Roads: Leaving Barcelona
With the growing ongoing tussle on and off the field, Messi sent the club a document expressing his desire to leave the club. Messi had his last stint with Barcelona during the 2020-2021 season and finally left the club on 5th August 2021, becoming a free agent. Three days later, he addressed that in a tearful conference in Camp Nou. He later went on to join Paris-Saint Germain alongside former teammate Neymar Jr and young star Kylian Mbappe.
The Final Chapter: FIFA World Cup 2022
His dream finally came along as he went on to win the World Cup by defeating France in penalties. He scored two important goals in the final. Messi also became the all-time top goal scorer for Argentina in the World Cup. He has also previously won the Copa America 2021, his first major trophy with Argentina, and also defeated Italy in the Finalissima 2022.
He has now recently ended his stint at PSG and joined the American side Inter-Miami and will play during his last few years in professional football.
Be it at the club or international level, Lionel Messi has achieved everything, from league trophies to the ultimate World Cup. Peter Drury was also spotted saying, “There will always be those who argue, always be those who debate, and the debate could rage on if you like”, regarding the debate of the best player between him and Cristiano Ronaldo.
From a small city to a great footballer, it has been a roller-coaster ride for him. His playmaking, flamboyance and ability to score goals will always inspire millions worldwide to play and love football. Wishing again, a very happy birthday to the greatest of all time.