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  • Writer's pictureThe Football Notebook

Leo Messi - Origins

Newell’s Old Boys, Rosario, Rejection

Lionel Messi was born into a footballing family - starting the sport young in the park with his older brothers. As his love for the game grew, so did his ability and he became part of the infamous “Machine of ‘87” - the Newell’s Old Boys youth team that was unbeatable, with Leo himself scoring a stupendous 500 goals for the team.

But it all came crashing down as at the age of 10 when he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency.

Treatment was expensive, and with his insurance only covering part of what was required, the Messi family went to club-after-club, searching for the one that would sponsor it.

Nothing turned up.

But then a massive longshot - arguably the biggest club in the world - Barcelona signed him. The first team director signed a contract there and then on a paper napkin after watching a tape of Messi play.

La Masia, the Baby Dream Team

After a slow first year, in which due to foreign player restrictions Messi could only play select-tournaments and some friendlies, he exploded - forming the “Baby Dream Team” that included Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique.

Soon after he and his two other teammates got offers from England, but whilst Messi stayed to continue his development, Fabregas and Pique left Spain.

First Team Debut, Announcing Himself to the World

The Argentine was still rapidly rising through the ranks when he got his first competitive senior team call up at the age of just 17, scoring his first goal just a few months later - an audacious chip followed by an iconic celebration.

Just a year later, he started to become a first-team regular, forming a brilliant trio with the deadly Samuel Eto’o and extravagant Ronaldinho.

But people really started to take notice when he scored a career first hat-trick in an El Clasico - one of the most heated and high-intensity games of football in the world. Each time Real Madrid scored, Messi was there, with the game eventually ending 3-3 after he equalised in injury time.

Then just one month later, he scored perhaps what is still the greatest goal of his career against Getafe, a mazy dribble in which Messi took the ball past 6 players - in an almost identical fashion to Maradona’s wonder goal at the 1986 World Cup.

False Nine, Champions League, Tiki-Taka

With almost everyone in agreement that Barca was in need of an overhaul, manager Rijkaard left the club along with many of its ageing superstars, and Barcelona B manager Pep Guardiola became the head of the First Team.

No one could have ever anticipated what would happen next.

FC Barcelona won 6 out of the 6 trophies they competed for in 2009, and their players ascended to an entirely different planet.

Messi went from promising prospect to the best in the world.

Iniesta from top-class midfielder to unstoppable central force.

Xavi from tempo influencer to midfield metronome.

With Messi now at the False Nine position - The Evolution of the False Nine - Barcelona overloaded the midfield and dominated matches, with Messi scoring 38 goals in just 51 matches.

He ended the 08/09 season with a thumping header against Manchester United in the Champions League final, winning the aerial duel against Rio Ferdinand - a player that was more than 20 centimetres taller than him.

Record Breaker, Heartbreak & Retirement

But whilst things progressed at club level, Argentina continued to struggle. A combination of poor tactical decisions and an increasing over-reliance on Messi led to repealed failures on the international stage.

But out of nowhere they reached the World Cup Final in 2014, through brilliant display after brilliant display from the Barca player. But in the final, it all came crashing down, as individual errors from the Argentine side lead to a 1-0 loss against Germany.

Had his teammates performed, perhaps Messi would have had the greatest trophy to his name - but it was not to be.

2 years earlier Leo Messi had turned into a monster, the likes that had never been seen before. 91 goals in 2012 gave him the most goals in a calendar year, beating Gerd Muller’s record of 86. And he did it in just 69 games, whilst also adding on an additional 22 assists for a combined total of 113 goal contributions, numbers which had never been touched since, and probably won’t be for the foreseeable future.

Then in 2015, Barca completed a second treble of the Champions League, La Liga, and Copa Del Rey, with MSN completely untouchable.

But once again, the club level accolades piled up while the national level ones remained at 0. At the 2016 Copa America, Messi led Argentina to another final - in which, once again, they lost, due to a missed penalty by the man himself after extra-time.

It was too much for Leo to take, and he announced his retirement from the international stage a few days later.

The Return, Barca’s Decline, and Messi’s Transformation

A couple of months later Messi decided to take up International Duty once more, in the hopes of winning just one major trophy in his career with the nation he loved so much.

But at the 2018 World Cup, Messi’s team was again nowhere to be seen. He carried them through the group stage, and almost got them through against the best side in the competition - but without real support, there was not much more he could do.

And at the same time, Barcelona finally started a decline from the top of world football. Poor transfer decisions, massive collapses in the late stages of the CL, and even larger over-reliance on a man who has now turned 33 has led them to this; a club with many players over 30, struggling to keep their star man who has lost faith in them, and a fanbase that are furious with their moves.

However, through all this hardship, Messi persevered. He still continued to break records and will do so for a while to come. He transformed from an electric winger to a thoughtful midfield maestro - all the while supplying and scoring goals at an extraordinary rate.

But Messi is not young anymore, and the rigours of playing the sport at such a high level has already started to take a toll, with the symptoms likely to show themselves soon.

And as such, we know that Leo Messi, the greatest footballer of all time, does not have that much time left with the game we all love so much. It may soon be time to say goodbye.

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