Lionel Andrés Messi
Lionel Messi – The Story of Barcelona’s Saviour
From signing his first contract on a paper napkin to becoming the greatest footballer of all time, Messi has scripted history on numerous occasions with Barcelona
When Lionel Messi first came off the bench as a long-haired, scrawny teenager against Jose Mourinho’s Porto, few would have expected him to go on and redefine the history of Barcelona. Fewer still would have believed that by the time he would be 25, he would already be considered among the greatest players to play the sport, and arguably, the best.
There were signs of greatness in him all along though, make no mistake about that. Ludovic Giuly was left bamboozled by a 16-year-old Lionel Messi in his very first training session with the first team.
Moreover, in 2005, Ronaldinho, the star of Barcelona who had just won a Ballon d’Or for being the best player in the world, introduced basketball superstar Kobe Bryant to Leo Messi and went on to add that the teenager would become the greatest player of all time.
Can you imagine that? The best in the world suggesting that a kid who had less than 25 appearances under his belt would go on to become the greatest footballer?
It did not take long for Ronaldinho’s prophecies to come true, however. In 2007, Messi announced himself to the world by scoring a hat-trick in El Clasico against Real Madrid.
He then went on to score a goal eerily reminiscent of Maradona’s iconic Goal of the Century against England. The comparisons with Maradona in the early phase of his career did not just stop there. Messi also recreated Maradona’s infamous Hand of God goal in the league match against Espanyol. The new ‘Messiah’, as the press had dubbed him back then, had well and truly arrived.
After a miserable season that finished without titles, the Barcelona squad went through a complete overhaul in the summer of 2008. Out went a struggling Ronaldinho, in came a young Pep Guardiola with a dream to take over the world and a vision to make it come true. And in his vision, at the center of it all, was Lionel Messi who was now wearing the iconic number 10 shirt at Barcelona.
Over the next four years, that Barcelona team went on to become the envy of the football world, playing a brand of ‘champagne football’ that defined an entire generation. Guardiola got Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta ticking to the beats of his ‘Tiki Taka’ and Barcelona went on to conquer La Liga, Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League in his very first season, becoming the first Spanish club to win the fabled treble.
This was followed by a Spanish Super Cup victory, a UEFA Super Cup win, and lifting the FIFA Club World Cup which made Barcelona the first team in the history of football to win all six trophies in a single year. Lionel Messi was at the center of all of that success and was deservedly awarded the first Ballon d’Or in his career.
It took a volcanic eruption in Iceland that disrupted air travel all across Europe, a 985km bus journey to Milan, and Jose Mourinho’s greatest park-the-bus challenge with Inter to stop Messi from winning a second consecutive Champions League in 2010. That did not deter Barcelona from winning the league double and Messi from winning a second consecutive Ballon d’Or however.
In 2010-11, Barcelona under Pep Guardiola and Messi reached the pinnacle of their prowess. They blew away every opposition and even smashed five goals past Real Madrid, who now had Mourinho as manager. Messi was fabulous throughout the season and scored a goal for the ages against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final. In the final against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, Barcelona emerged triumphant once again, winning their second Champions League in three years.
The following year, Pep Guardiola’s last season in charge of Barcelona proved to be unsuccessful as they lost the league to Real Madrid and suffered a heart-breaking defeat against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final. It proved to be a record-breaking year for Messi nonetheless, who demolished goal-scoring records across Europe, finishing as the highest scorer in a single season and in a single calendar year and winning a then record fourth Ballon d’Or.
Heartbreak in National Colours
Ever since Messi burst on to the scene, there had been plenty of excitement among Argentine fans regarding their new ‘Messiah.’ They believed Messi would lead the nation to World Cup glory in the same manner as Diego Maradona did in ‘86.
However, the pressure of those expectations coupled with the fact that Argentine management made a mess of the national side with incompetency ensured that Messi came close to winning silverware on several occasions, but fell one step short every single time.
The 2014 World Cup Final was one such occasion. Led by Messi, who went on to win the World Cup Golden Ball for being the best player in the tournament, Argentina came extremely close to lifting the trophy but a Mario Gotze goal in the extra time of the final in Rio denied them the glory.
They suffered similar heartbreaks in the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals as well, losing to Chile on penalties. The reaction and the toll of those losses were so severe on Messi that he decided to end his national career.
However, an unprecedented fan support in his native Argentina and with several eminent personalities calling for him to come back, Messi ended up reversing that decision and single-handedly guided Argentina to the
2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia after a difficult qualifying campaign.
With the World Cup in Qatar being almost a year away, Messi’s search for silverware with his national side continues.
Unparalleled Consistency and Becoming the Greatest of all Time
With the help of compatriots Luis Suarez and Neymar, Lionel Messi helped Barcelona lift yet another treble in 2015, thus becoming the first club to achieve this historic feat twice. That year saw Messi develop into a complete and all-round footballer who was influencing almost every phase of the game.
Messi’s synergy with Neymar and Suarez became the scorn of managers across Europe. The trio ate defenders for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and scored goals for fun. Barcelona continued to dominate Europe but it all came to a quick standstill after Neymar left for PSG and manager Luis Enrique decided to end his tenure.
Under new coach Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona continued to win titles with Messi once again being the focal point of the side. However, consecutive embarrassments in the Champions League along with a growing discontentment within the fans and club members regarding the bland brand of football on offer forced Barcelona to look for a different path.
During this period, Messi gradually became distant from the club’s management with every passing season. All of that resentment and negativity bubbled on to the surface when, in the summer of 2020, the Argentine superstar requested the club to allow him to leave, shocking the entire world.
Grief, surprise, and anger poured in from all quarters as fans blamed President Bartomeu’s board for ruining the special relationship Messi had with the club of Barcelona. Things came to an impasse between Barcelona and Messi over the clauses in his contract but Leo refused to take ‘the club of his life’ to court in order to seek an exit.
The Story Continues
Almost a year on from that transfer saga and Lionel Messi now looks closer to staying in Barcelona than leaving. Under new manager Ronald Koeman, and most importantly, new President Joan Laporta, Messi has found dependable individuals who can help him rebuild Barcelona into a world-dominating side again.
The signs have been clear this season. Koeman has injected fresh blood into Barcelona, with the team playing much better football now compared to the last few years. There’s also a fighting spirit imbued among the players with Messi leading the pack with his individual brilliance.
Barcelona cut short Atletico Madrid’s 12-point lead at the top of the table and are firmly placed in the La Liga battle. They also lifted their 31st Copa Del Rey title recently against Athletic Bilbao with Messi running the show in the final.
Given the breath of fresh air in Catalunya, the legend of Lionel Messi seems to continue at Barcelona for a while. It has been a beautiful story so far, one of the most miraculous tales in sports history and one can only hope that it stays that way.
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