So it happened , Lionel Messi has now become Barcelona’s all time top goalscorer with 236 goals at the age of 23. Another hat trick last week saw Messi overtake previous record holder Cesar Rodriguez and grab headlines all around the world in doing so . He has since extended that record with another two goals and who knows how many he will end up with if he continues to produce such amazingly high standards. Leo Messi has now rightly been elevated to Legend status at Barcelona (in truth he already was before he had broken the record) and he really is a truly fabulous footballer playing in a truly fabulous football team, but it all could have been so different from where he began his journey.

Born in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina, Lionel Messi began playing football from a young age and developed his skills at around at the age of 5 years old playing street football before joining Grandoli (a local team), for whom Lionel’s father was a coach. A few years later Messi moved to Newell’s Old Boys who were based in his home city of Rosario. Lionel continued his development at Newells but at the age of 11, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. By now Lionel’s potential had ensured that other clubs were taking notice and Argentinian giants River Plate were keen to take Messi , but did not have enough money to fund the treatment for Lionel’s condition, which cost around $900 a month.

Lionel’s family were keen to find a club who could fund his treatment therefore some relatives of Messi’s family who lived in Catalonia, contacted Barcelona and highlighted not only Messi’s ability but the predicament he was in back in Argentina. The family spoke to Carles Rexach, the sporting director of FC Barcelona, and he arranged a trial for Messi which changed his life forever.  When Lionel and his father arrived in Catalonia for his trial, Barca scouts and coaches were very sceptical about his size and whether he had any future as a footballer ! After the trial they were still unsure, they were in no doubt he had the quality, but he didn’t have the size to match it. In fact, Barcelona almost sent Messi away without signing him as some of the directors were not convinced as it would be quite a commitment to rehouse his family and pay for the growth hormone injections, for someone who was just a very promising youngster and not a ready-made first team player. Messi won some admirers though including Carles Rexach as they had enough belief in his ability to offer him a contract at the club.  In fact  it has been reported that Rexach was so keen to sign him  that, with no other paper at hand, he offered Messi a contract written on a paper napkin ! The contract offer stated that Barcelona would pay for Messi’s medical bills if he was willing to move to Spain. Messi and his father moved to Barcelona where Messi enrolled in the club’s youth academy.

Lionel Messi left Newell’s youth team  in 2000 and moved with his family to begin his new life in Europe and to undergo treatment for his growth condition. Messi played in Barcelona’s junior  teams from 2000 to 2003 (scoring 37 goals in 30 matches in Cadete A). That was just the start for Lionel who then played for Barcelona’s various youth and reserve teams and the goals continued to flow as the treatment helped him develop his speed and strength to go with his already undoubted ability.

Lionel Messi’s first appearance in the Barca first team came in a Friendly against FC Porto aged just 16 years 145 days. However, less than a year after that start, then Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard gave him his league debut against RCD Espanyol on 16 October 2004 aged 17 years and 114 days. In making that debut Messi became the third-youngest player ever to play for Barcelona and youngest club player who played in La Liga in the process. Messi also went onto become the youngest player ever to score for Barcelona in La Liga when he scored against Albacete at the Nou Camp on the 1st of May 2005,  but Bojan Kricic later broke both of those records.

Who would have guessed when that goal went in that it was just the beginning for Lionel, as he was about to embark on an incredible journey that would take him to be their top scorer in just a few short seasons. After that goal , Leo Messi was really just a bit part player for a couple of seasons and it was not until the 2006/7 season that he really established himself in the Barcelona first team by scoring 14 goals in 26 games including a hat trick in the ‘Classico’ . SInce then the goals have flowed  and flowed as well as the general performance level of Messi. His goal ratio has increased season by season since then as can be seen by these stats below :

2006/7  Season  14 Goals
2007/8 Season   16 Goals
2008/9 Season  38 Goals
2009/10  Season  47 Goals
2010/11  Season  53 Goals

And so far this season he has scored 56 Goals including 36 goals in La Liga ! Quite simply an amazing set of statistics for a boy that Barcelona almost turned their noses up at when he  arrived for the trial as he was so small. He still is one of the smallest players around but now he’s also one of the hardest players to knock off the ball and his dribbling ability is second to none and Barcelona have played an integral role in his development into the ‘World Class’ player we see before us today.

As well as the numerous goals that Messi has scored for Barcelona he has won a whole host of trophies and personal awards. 

Already in his short career Messi has won five La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues (scoring in two of those finals, against Manchester United in both 2009 and 2011. He did not play when Barcelona defeated Arsenal in 2006, but received a winners’ medal). 

Messi became the first player to win the Champions League top scorer title for three consecutive years.

Messi is the fourth football player to win three Ballons d’Or, after Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten. As well as this he is only the second player to win three consecutive Ballons d’Or, after Michel Platini.

In 2012, Messi made UEFA Champions League history by becoming the first player to score five goals in one match, in a 7–1 win against Bayer Leverkusen.

Messi also won the 2010–11 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award.

Gold Medal for Argentina at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Messi has made such an impact on football fans during his time at Barcelona through his performances and he has also received some glowing references from ex-players and World Football Icons.

After winning the 2009 UEFA Super Cup, Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola asserted that Messi was probably the best player he had ever seen !

Diego Maradona declared Messi to be his ‘Successor’ and deliver success to Argentina after comparisons were made between their style of play.

Arsène Wenger likened Leo Messi to a computer game player after Barcelona’s  4–1 Champions League victory against Arsenal at the Nou Camp in 2011 stating that ;

“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.”

Lionel Messi has gained respect and admiration throughout the World of football through his performances and the way he handles himself. He is a player who oozes class and his dribbling skills are amazing. He also has an unerving calmness when presented with a goal scoring chance. Just look through some of his goals on YouTUBE and you will see how easy he makes scoring goals look. The amount of times he runs through defences and chips the goalkeeper is incredible. A couple of weeks ago Pep Guardiola had this to say about Messi :

“We are witnessing the best [player] in every sense. He does everything, and he does it every three days. I’m sorry for those that want to sit on his throne, but this lad is the best. Hopefully we can enjoy his football for many more years.”  –  Pep Guardiola.

High praise indeed from Guardiola but it is hard to argue with his assessment of the Barcelona frontman. The fact that Messi has become Barcelona’s highest ever scorer is an unbelievable feat. Not just to become the leading all-time goalscorer of one of the biggest clubs in the world, but to do it at the age of 24.  The amount of goals he has scored is incredible and those figures look set to continue to levels probably never seen before and maybe never again,  should the superstar remain at Barca for the majority of his career, which he’s expected to do so.

Lionel Messi’s journey to the top has been a long and painful one due to his hormone deficiency and was a condition that would have major implications for someone who wanted to pursue a career in football. The treatment that Messi had to undego ran into thousands of pounds, and this was funded by Messi’s family until Barcelona took over those costs. It was a tough time for a young boy as he had to self administer injections into both legs each night in order to try and keep his dream of playing professional football alive. But the treatment that Lionel received has helped him develop into physically strong player who is now able to compete at the top level which he does with consumate ease.

Comparisons are often made between Messi and another top player Christiano Ronaldo who also has a tremendous scoring record in Spain. They are similar but very different at the same time if that makes sense ? Both can play anywhere across the front and both can be devastatingly quick. The main differences as I see it is that Messi is a better dribbler than Ronaldo but the latter is better in the air. One thing they do have in common is that they score goals for fun. At the time of writing this Messi has 56 goals this season and Ronaldo has 48 although at the moment Ronaldo has 37 La Liga goals compared with Messi’s 36 La Liga goals. One thing is for certain both players are wonderful talents but I would favour Messi over Ronaldo due to his dribbling ability and the fact that there are no theatricals with Messi.

Messi can do the lot such is his natural ability. He can play deep, play wide get involved in playing 1-2s all over the pitch then finish comfortably. As stated Messi is just so calm in front of goal and the problem for defenders and goalkeepers is that he can finish in numerous ways and it all looks so effortless.

Whereas Christiano Ronaldo has played in England I do not expect Messi to land on these shores anytime soon. Barcelona seem to be a perfect fit for Messi so why would he give that up. He is currently under contract until 2016, and has a ‘buy out’ clause in his contract for £250 million which I think even Manchester City would baulk at !

One argument I do not buy into is whether or not he could perform in England. In my opinion Messi would be able to fit in and score lots of goals in The Premier League as he has the pace and ability to do so. The ‘Could he do at Stoke on a wet Wednesday Night’ question comes out from time to time but I think he would have no problem whatsoever. I have watched some Barcelona matches where he has been kicked off the park but has got back up and gone again. You never see him complain even when he is kicked and that is a tremendous quality to have.

Away from the pitch Lionel Messi does a lot of work for Charity. In 2007, Messi established the Leo Messi Foundation, a charity supporting access to education and health care for vulnerable children. In response to Messi’s own childhood medical difficulties, the Leo Messi Foundation has offered Argentine children diagnosed with illnesses treatment in Spain and funds covering the transport, hospital and recuperation costs.
Messi has also become a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ for Unicef. Messi’s role as a UNICEF ambassador is aimed at supporting children’s rights. Messi is supported in this role by Barcelona, who also have a strong association with UNICEF.

On April 2011, Messi was named in the 2011 Time 100, the magazine’s annual list of the most influential people in the world not bad for a little boy from Rosario, Argentina with a hormonal growth deficiency ! All in all Lionel Messi has come a long way in a relatively small period of time and has developed into the best player in the world today in my opinion. I would have to go one better than that personally and say that he is THE best I have ever seen as he can simply do the lot. I have heard the argument that until he performs at a World Cup or wins something for Argentina he cannot be classed as the best but that is not necessarily something I buy into personally.

Lionel Messi is a truly phenomenal footballer and I have to say that I am priveleged and grateful to be able witness him perform week in and week out albeit from my television screen set, I just hope the Barcelona fans fully appreciate this little magician at work as they are truly the priveleged ones to be able to see him every week perform for their team.