For many years, the question of who the greatest football player is has raged on. The names muted in this discourse have been those of the eccentric Argentine legend Diego Maradona, the charismatic Brazilian icon Pele, and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer. A few other names usually pop up, but general consensus is that it would be between Pele and Maradona.
In the last two decades, however, a little magician from Argentina has completely blown the football world away and held everyone spellbound by his immense footballing abilities such that it’s easy to see why even the greatest players aforementioned are okay to relinquish the title of “greatest player of all time” to him. This little genius is Lionel Messi.
Early Life and Challenges with Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD)
Lionel Messi was born on 24th June 1987 in the Rosario region of Argentina to Jorge Messi and his wife Celia Cuccittini. His parents are believed to be the descendants of early Italian immigrants who settled in the Rosario region of Argentina.
Given the popularity of football in Argentina, it really is no surprise to see kids take up an early interest in the game of football. Alongside his older brothers Rodrigo and Matías, and cousins, Maximiliano and Emanuel Biancucchi, Messi was introduced early to playing on the streets as is common in South America.
At the age of four, local club Grandoli had snapped him up. Two years later, he moved to the club of his heart, Newells Old boys where he played in the club’s youth set up until the age of 11. Unfortunately, Messi was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency (GHD). In simple terms, he had a shortage of growth hormones which meant he was going to become a dwarf. This consequently meant his footballing career was under serious threat. His parents were unable to raise the money required for treatment and neither could the club afford to pick the bills.
His lucky break came when he was granted a trial with Spanish Club Barcelona. The club was so impressed that they offered the teenager a contract on a napkin! Part of the perks was that the Club opted to finance his GHD treatment.
Days At The Famous La Masia Academy
One of the secrets to Barcelona’s sustained success in the last two decades has been it’s outstanding youth setup more popularly known in Spain as La Masia. This production line has refined some of the greatest Spanish players of the last 30 years.
Here, Messi was bedded into the Club culture and footballing philosophy with an emphasis on one-touch play, quick interchanges, and ball retention. Messi played alongside Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué and other young Spanish players that would become part of the country’s golden generation.
Career Successes With Barcelona
Youth team coaches at Barca had been sending word to the Club hierarchy as to the special talent that was on their hands and there was a brewing optimism about this young kid from Rosario whose talents most of the world was yet to see.
Barcelona Coach Frank Rijkaard had been taking his time to introduce him into the senior team, he began inviting him for senior team training and soon it was obvious he was a special kid. On many of those occasions, he would easily dribble past the established senior team defenders with so much ease it became embarrassing.
It was during this phase that he became friends with Brazilian maestro Ronaldinho who took him under his wings and told his teammates that this little man was going to become far better than himself. This friendship with this fun-loving fellow South American helped his assimilation into the Barca senior team.
Messi made his first appearance during the 2004/05 season and became the youngest player to score a league goal. In 2006, Messi and Barcelona won the double (both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League). Messi had a good season though it was hampered with injuries that ultimately led to him missing the Champions League final against Arsenal in Paris.
By the next season, he became more involved in first-team football, scoring a total of 17 goals in 36 games across all competitions. Over the next two seasons, Barca underperformed, primarily due to an aging squad and the waning powers of Ronaldinho. As manager Rijjkard left the club alongside Ronaldinho, the next few years would see the Club rise to the peak of its powers, propelled by the sheer force of Messi’s brilliance and the tutelage of one of the game’s best managers Pep Guardiola. The core of that team was comprised of players who had grown together through La Masia and had forged a togetherness and an understanding of the game that would come in handy in the years to come.
In Pep’s first season, Barca fielded a formidable forward line of Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, and Messi, with Henry operating from the left, Eto’o through the middle and Messi stationed on the right with a license to drift in-field. Between the three of them, they scored a total of 100 goals in all competitions. Messi and his team ended that season winning the treble (the La Liga, Champions League, and Copa Del Rey)
Over the coming years, Messi would literally go on a rampage, breaking virtually every record in sight and establishing himself as the greatest football player the world has ever seen. In his time at Barca, he has won no less than four UEFA Champions League titles, ten La Liga titles, and six Copas del Rey bringing his Club trophy haul to at least 34 trophies.
Messi became the youngest player to score 200 goals in the Spanish La Liga at the age of 25. He also holds the Guinness World Record title for scoring the most goals in a single calendar year. Messi is the first football player in the World to win three European Golden Shoe awards. The European Golden shoe award is given to a player who scores the most goals in a competitive European league. Messi is also the first and only player to become a top scorer in four consecutive Champions League campaigns.
Lionel Messi received the prestigious FIFA World Player of the year nominations in 2008 when he was only 21 years old. Although he did not win it, he is among the youngest football players to be nominated for this award.
In 2009, Lionel Messi won his first FIFA World Player of the Year award. He was 22 years old at the time. He went on winning this award for the next three years. He became the first player to win this award in four consecutive seasons.
At age 24, Lionel Messi became the all-time top scorer for the soccer club Barcelona. He is also the player who has scored the most hat-tricks in the history of the club.
Critics Will Say He Hasn’t Been As Successful With His National Team
One of the criticisms leveled against Messi has been that he has not been as successful with Argentina as he has been with Barca. He is yet to win a major honor with the National team. He won an Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics and won the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship.
He assumed the captaincy of the Argentine National team in August 2011 and has led his country Argentina to three consecutive finals; the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the 2015 and 2016 Copas América. He announced his retirement from the National team in 2016 but came out of retirement to lead his country to qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and a third-place finish at the 2019 Copa América. Despite perceived underachievement with the national team, Messi is his country’s all-time leading goalscorer.
After his battles with the Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he isn’t the tallest football player you would find. He stands at 1.7 meters and weighs 72 kg. Watching him play, he comes across as some kid in the playground having fun. That innocent effervescence has become a trademark of the Messi style.
Diminutive and blessed with a low center of gravity, Messi’s game is built around his unbelievable close control and dribbling ability. He possesses the ability to run at great speed without losing the ball – a feat his former boss Pep Guardiola alludes to describing him as the only player in the world that runs faster with the ball at his feet than when he doesn’t.
Almost every player at the elite level has an attribute or two that they aren’t so good at, which they offset with their strengths. But in Messi’s case, you’d really struggle to find one thing he is average at. He has an incredible vision and can easily spot a pass and execute to precision.
Perhaps the single biggest tool in his arsenal is his finishing ability. Presented with a goal scoring chance, he posses the calmness of a serial killer and will 9 out of 10 times score. This makes him a defender’s nightmare. He will drop deep into pockets of space, fashion out chances for teammates, shot from distance, and commit defenders with his insane dribbling skills. He is equally a master of dead ball situations and has a history of scoring some of the most breathtaking free-kicks you will ever see.
Throughout his career, Messi has played in a variety of positions, in his younger days, he played mostly on the flanks, at the beginning of his Barca career he played on the right, cutting in on his favorite left foot. Pep Guardiola utilized him in a False 9 position giving him the freedom to roam in-between the lines, pick up the ball, and run at defenses to devastating effect. Due to his wide skill-set, he is adept at playing in any of the forward positions, and with age it possible to see him drop deeper to dictate play and initiate attacks from deep.
Messi Is Paid A Fortune, And Why Shouldn’t He?
Over the last two decades, Messi’s rise to football stardom has coincided with an influx of investment into football. Cash from lucrative broadcast deals and sponsorship have shot through the roof and made the average footballer a millionaire by any standard. When you are the best in the game, it’s only natural that he earns so much more than the average player.
Throughout his career, Messi has stuck to Barcelona. Almost all of Europe’s top clubs have at one point tried to lure him away from the Nou Camp to no success. To reward his loyalty and also ward off potential suitors Barcelona has almost always made him the club’s top earner.
As the Messi brand grew, his earnings diversified from football mainly as a result of endorsement deals with brands such as Audemars Piguet, Dolce & Gabbana, Turkish Airlines, Ooredoo, and Tata Motors. For many years he has been the face of Pro Evolution Soccer for four years, PES 2009, PES 2010, PES 2011 and PES 2020. For four years he was also the face of soccer video game FIFA 13, 14, 15, and FIFA 16.
According to Forbes, Messi earns $92 Million from his current deal at Barca. This includes add-ons, bonuses, and other perks. His base salary is put at a whopping $646,000 per week. He makes an additional $35 Million from endorsements. His net worth is put at $127 Million
Painfully Shy And Introverted, Lionel Messi Is Very Family Oriented
When compared to other football superstars of his generation, Messi is more reserved and isn’t given to flamboyance. In a world were footballers are never far away from controversy and a chain of girlfriends, scandals, late-night partying, and the likes. Messi has been dating his girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo since he was 5 years old. Messi and Antonella have three sons together. Thiago (born 2012), Mateo (born 2015), and Ciro (born 2018).
Messi has incorporated his family into his professional life. His father Jorge is his agent and oversees his contract negotiations alongside a team of lawyers. His mother Celia and brother, Matías run the Leo Messi Foundation while his oldest brother Rodrigo is in charge of his PR and daily schedule. He visits his hometown often, and still keeps the same friends, most of whom he has known from the days when they played on the streets of Rosario.