Every superlative in the dictionary has been scribed by football critics worldwide to try and articulate the ability of FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. However one, simple in its form, remains most fitting: special.
Born in Rosario, Argentina in 1987, ‘Leo’ began his career with local side Newell’s Old Boys aged eight but, from the age of five, it was clear to those who saw him play that Messi was gifted. Quick, strong and skillful, Messi was head and shoulders above his peers despite being diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency aged 11.
Following a five-year spell at his hometown club, Newell’s Old Boy’s best kept secret was finally discovered. Barcelona’s then sporting director Carlos Rexach was made aware of Messi’s talent and, after watching him play, offered to sign him immediately. A deal was struck. Barca agreed to take full responsibility of the Argentine’s growth deficiency, and Messi reciprocated the favour by signing a contract in 2001, aged only 13.
Catalunya instantly felt like home for the youngster and he progressed through the youth ranks at a canter. In 2002, at 16 years of age, Messi made his first team debut in a friendly with Porto. He scored his first goal a year later aged 17, thus becoming the youngest FCB goalscorer in La Liga (a record since surpassed by Bojan Krkic).
Since then Messi has become a world sensation; his incredible close control with both feet, frightening pace and admirable temperament have earned him plaudits from all walks of life. As of October 2009, he has won three La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey and two Champions league winners medal with els blaugranes, reaching 100 appearances and 50 club goals along the way. Not just ordinary goals either. Comparisons to Maradona are inevitable, but welcome, with the man himself heralding ‘Leo’ as his “true successor.” Indeed his goal against Getafe in April 2007 – strikingly similar to Maradona’s iconic goal against England in the ‘86 World Cup – was a moment of innate quality that epitomises what we know and now expect from Lionel Messi.