The best soccer player in the world, there are few finer sights than Lionel Messi using a mixture of pace and trickery to beat multiple defenders from his position in the center of the Barcelona attack.
Pele and Maradona are considered by many to be the best players ever to have kicked a ball but it is no exaggeration to say that Messi has now claimed a positionalongside these players in soccer's pantheon of greats.
The Argentinean joined Barcelona at the age of 13, with the club paying for treatment on a growth hormone deficiency that threatened to stunt his progress. What a shrewd investment that now looks, with Messi already the club's record goalscorer.
- Name: Lionel Andrés Messi
- Nationality: Argentinean
- Date and Place of Birth: June 24, 1987 in Rosario, Argentina
- Position: Playmaker
- Current Club: Barcelona (La Liga)
- Previous Club: Newell's Old Boys (1995-2000)
- International Career: 2005 to present
Move from Newell's:Messi started playing for Argentinean club Newell's Old Boys at the age of eight after turning out for a few years with his local team. His father was a factory worker and his mother a cleaner, and they were unable to pay the money required to remedy his growth hormone deficiency. This was also the case with River Plate who were interested in signing the player.
Barcelona, then under the stewardship of long time club servant Carles Rexach, pounced with the promise of paying the US$800 a month required to pay the bills.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the player's destiny and the club's future were redefined.
Messi would excel in the youth and B teams before making his first team debut against Barca's city rivals Espanyol. His first goal would follow against Albacete at the age of 17 years, 10 months and seven days, making him the club's youngest ever Liga scorer.
Increasing Influence:Messi's presence at Barcelona grew, so much so that the club decided they did not need to keep the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco in 2008.
La Pulga's (The Flea) goal against Getafe in the 2007 Copa del Rey had to be seen to be believed. He ran from the half way line, beating every player who came across his path before rounding the goalkeeper. The goal conjured memories of Maradona's famous effort against England at the 1986 World Cup and only encouraged further comparisons between the pair.
Messi has won five league titles with Barca, and in the 2008/09 campaign, after inheriting Ronaldinho's number 10 jersey, he scored 38 goals in all competition, dazzling in the irresistible frontline trio that also comprized Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry. With Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez forming a telepathic understanding with Messi, Barca won the Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey treble.
Messi would go on to better that 38-goal tally in the two following seasons, scoring 45 and 50 respectively as Barca won the championship, while also securing their third Champions League in six seasons. Messi followed up his goal against Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final with a fiercely struck shot against the same opponents in the 2011 showpiece.
The Argentinean, who has won the Fifa World Player of the Year award in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 may lack the personality of Maradona, but he has no trouble expressing himself on the pitch, and Barca's decision to improve his wages and buy-out clause on more than one occasion reflect this. He is now Barcelona's record scorer after an astonishing haul of 73 goals in the 2011-12 season.
In 2013 Messi scored 91 times to set a new record for goals scored in a calendar year, surpassing Gerd Muller's total of 85 in 1972.
Argentina Career:Messi's first appearance for the Albiceleste (White and Sky blue) came against Hungry on August 17, 2005 but he was sent-off within two minutes of coming on for elbowing an opponent.
He featured at the 2006 World Cup in Germany but coach Jose Pekerman was reluctant to hand him free rein and he started just one match.
Barcelona did not want Messi to play in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing but an agreement was reached and he duly helped his county win the gold medal.
There was a perception among some critics that Messi under performed at the World Cup, as Argentina reached the quarter-finals. He did not score (doing everything but), but demonstrated his sublime talents against Nigeria and South Korea in the group stages. He may not have been at his very best, but the 2010 World Cup was by no means a write-off for Messi who often shone in his position behind the strikers.