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Lionel Messi

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"Messi" redirects here. For the biopic, see Messi (film).
This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Messi and the second or maternal family name is Cuccittini.
Lionel Messi
2015 UEFA Super Cup 64 crop.jpg
Messi with Barcelona in 2015
Personal information
Full name Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini[1]
Date of birth (1987-06-24) 24 June 1987 (age 28)
Place of birth Rosario, Argentina
Height 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)[2]
Playing position Forward
Club information
Current team
Barcelona
Number 10
Youth career
1995–2000 Newell's Old Boys
2000–2003 Barcelona
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
2003–2004 Barcelona C 10 (5)
2004–2005 Barcelona B 22 (6)
2004– Barcelona 317 (286)
National team
2004–2005 Argentina U20 18 (14)
2007–2008 Argentina U23 5 (2)
2005– Argentina 104 (48)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 23 May 2015.
† Appearances (Goals).

‡ National team caps and goals correct as of 5 September 2015

Lionel Andrés "Leo" Messi Cuccittini (Spanish pronunciation: [ljoˈnel anˈdɾes ˈmesi]; born 24 June 1987) is an Argentine professional footballer who plays for Spanish club FC Barcelona and the Argentina national team as a forward, and is also the captain of the national team.

By the age of 21, Messi had received Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year nominations. The following year, in 2009, he won his first Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards. He followed this up by winning the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or in 2010, and then again in 2011 and 2012. He also won the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award twice, in 2011 and 2015. At the age of 24, Messi became Barcelona's all-time top scorer in all official club competitions. In September 2014 he scored his 400th senior career goal for club and country aged just 27. In November 2014, Messi became the all-time top scorer in La Liga, and the all-time leading goalscorer in the UEFA Champions League.

Often considered the best player in the world and rated by some in the sport as the greatest of all time,[3][4][5][6][7][8] Messi is the first and only football player in history to win four FIFA/Ballons d'Or, all of which he won consecutively, and the first to win three European Golden Shoe awards. With Barcelona, Messi has won seven La Ligas, three Copas del Rey, six Supercopas de España, four UEFA Champions Leagues, three UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups.

Messi is the only player to top-score in four consecutive Champions League seasons, and also holds the record for the most hat-tricks scored in the competition with five. In March 2012, he made Champions League history by becoming the first player to score five goals in one match. In the 2011–12 season, Messi set the European record for most goals scored in a season with 73 goals, set the goalscoring record in a single La Liga season with 50 goals, and became the second player ever to score in six different official competitions in one season after Pedro.[9] In February 2013 he scored his 300th Barcelona goal. On 30 March 2013, Messi scored in his 19th consecutive La Liga game, becoming the first footballer in history to net in consecutive matches against every team in a professional football league. He extended his record scoring streak to 21 consecutive league matches. In March 2014, with a hat-trick against Real Madrid, Messi became the player with the most goals and most hat-tricks in the history of El Clásico. In October 2014, Messi, aged 27, became the youngest player to score 250 goals in La Liga. In November 2014, Messi scored a hat-trick against Sevilla to reach 253 La Liga goals, becoming the all-time top scorer in La Liga. In May 2015, he scored his 77th Champions League goal to become its all-time leading scorer.

Messi helped Argentina win the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup, finishing as both the best player and the top scorer (with six goals). In 2006, he became the youngest Argentine to play and score in the FIFA World Cup, and in 2007 he won a runners-up medal at the Copa América, in which he was named young player of the tournament. In 2008, he won an Olympic Gold Medal with the Argentina Olympic football team. At the 2014 World Cup, he led Argentina to the final, winning four consecutive Man of the Match awards in the process, and received the Golden Ball award as the best player of the tournament. In 2013, SportsPro rated him the second-most marketable athlete in the world.[10] In 2015, he won a second runners-up medal at the Copa América; he also took part in the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 Copa América with his national side. His playing style and stature have drawn comparisons to compatriot Diego Maradona, who himself declared Messi his "successor".[11]

Early life

Lionel Andrés Messi was born on 24 June 1987 in Rosario, Santa Fe, the third of four children of Jorge Messi, a steel factory manager, and his wife Celia Cuccittini, who worked in a magnet manufacturing workshop. He is of Italian and Spanish heritage, the great-grandson of immigrants from Marche and Catalonia.[12] Growing up in a tight-knit, football-loving family, "Leo" developed a passion for the sport from an early age, playing constantly with his older brothers, Rodrigo and Matías, and his cousins, Maximiliano and Emanuel Biancucchi, both of whom became professional footballers.[13] At four years old, he joined local club Grandoli, where he was coached by his father, though his earliest influence as a player came from his maternal grandmother, Celia, who accompanied him to training and matches.[14] He was greatly affected by her death, shortly before his eleventh birthday; since then, as a devout Catholic, he has celebrated his goals by looking up and pointing to the sky in tribute of his grandmother.[15][16]

"When you saw him you would think: this kid can't play ball. He's a dwarf, he's too fragile, too small. But immediately you'd realise that he was born different, that he was a phenomenon and that he was going to be something impressive."

Newell's Old Boys youth coach Adrián Coria shares his first impression of the 12-year-old Messi.[17]

A lifelong supporter of Newell's Old Boys, Messi joined the Rosario club when he was six years old. During the six years he played for Newell's, he scored almost 500 goals as a member of "The Machine of '87", the near-unbeatable youth side named for the year of their birth, and regularly entertained crowds by performing ball tricks during half-time of the first team's home games.[18][19] However, his future as a professional player was threatened when, at age 10, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. As his father's health insurance covered only two years of growth hormone treatment, which cost at least $1000 per month, Newell's agreed to contribute, but later reneged on their promise.[20] He was scouted by Buenos Aires club River Plate, whose playmaker, Pablo Aimar, he idolised, but they were also unable to pay for his treatment due to the country's economic collapse.[21][22]

Messi enrolled at Barcelona's youth academy, La Masia, at age 13.

As the Messi family had relatives in Catalonia, they sought to arrange a trial with Barcelona in September 2000. First team director Charly Rexach immediately wanted to sign him, but the board of directors hesitated; at the time it was highly unusual for European clubs to sign foreign players of such a young age. On 14 December, an ultimatum was issued for Barcelona to prove their commitment, and Rexach, with no other paper at hand, offered a contract on a paper napkin.[21][23] In February 2001, the family relocated to Barcelona, where they moved into an apartment nearby the club's stadium, Camp Nou. During his first year in Spain, Messi rarely played with the Infantiles due to a transfer conflict with Newell's; as a foreigner, he could only be fielded in friendlies and the Catalan league. Without football, he struggled to integrate into the team; already reserved by nature, he was so quiet that his teammates initially believed he was mute. At home, he suffered from homesickness after his mother moved back to Rosario with his brothers and little sister, María Sol, while he stayed in Barcelona with his father.[18][23][24]

After a year at Barcelona's youth academy, La Masia, Messi was finally enrolled in the Spanish Football Federation in February 2002. Now playing in all competitions, he befriended his teammates, among whom were Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué, who nicknamed him enano, meaning dwarf.[25] Aged 14, he completed his growth hormone treatment, eventually reaching his adult height of 1.69 m (5 ft 6 12 in).[26] Messi then became an integral part of the "Baby Dream Team", Barcelona's greatest-ever youth side. During his first full season, in 2002–03, he was top scorer with 36 goals in 30 games for the Cadetes A, who won an unprecedented treble of the league and both the Spanish and Catalan cups.[25][27] The Copa Catalunya final, a 4–1 victory over Espanyol, became known in club lore as the partido de la máscara, the final of the mask. A week after suffering a broken cheekbone during a league match, Messi was allowed to start the game on the condition that he wear a plastic protector; soon hindered by the mask, he took it off and scored two goals in 10 minutes before his substitution.[28] At the close of the season, he received an offer to join Arsenal, his first from a foreign club, but while Fàbregas and Piqué soon left for England, he chose to remain in Barcelona.[23][29][30]

Barcelona

2003–05: Rise to the first team

During the 2003–04 season, his fourth with Barcelona, Messi rapidly progressed through the club's ranks, debuting for a record five teams in a single campaign. After being named player of the tournament in four international pre-season competitions with the Juveniles B, he played only one official match with the team before being promoted to the Juveniles A, where he scored 18 goals in 11 league games.[31][32] Messi was then one of several youth players called up to strengthen a depleted first team during the international break. At 16 years, four months, and 23 days old, he made his first team debut when he came on in the 75th minute during a friendly against Jose Mourinho's Porto on 16 November 2003.[23][33] His performance, creating two chances and a shot on goal, impressed the technical staff, and he subsequently began training daily with the club's reserve side, Barcelona B, as well as weekly with the first team.[34] After his first training session with the senior squad, Barça's new star player, Ronaldinho, told his teammates that he believed the 16-year-old would become an even better player than himself.[35] Ronaldinho soon befriended Messi, whom he called "little brother," which greatly eased his transition into the first team.[36][37]

To gain further match experience, Messi joined Barcelona C in addition to the Juveniles A, playing his first game for the third team on 29 November. He helped save them from the relegation zone of the Tercera División, scoring five goals in 10 games, including a hat-trick in eight minutes during a Spanish Cup match while man-marked by Sevilla's Sergio Ramos.[31][38] His progress was reflected in his first professional contract, signed on 4 February 2004, which lasted until 2012 and contained an initial buyout clause of €30 million. A month later, on 6 March, he made his debut for Barcelona B in the Segunda División B, and his buyout clause automatically increased to €80 million.[31][39] He played five games with the B team that season but did not score.[40] Physically he was weaker than his opponents, who were often much older and taller, and in training he worked on increasing his muscle mass and overall strength in order to be able to shake off defenders. Towards the end of the season, he returned to both youth teams, helping the Juveniles B win the league. He finished the campaign having scored for four of his five teams with a total of 36 goals in all official competitions.[31][38]

During the 2004–05 season, Messi was a guaranteed starter for the B team, playing 17 games throughout the campaign and scoring on six occasions.[35][41] Since his debut the previous November, he had not been called up to the first team again, but in October 2004, the senior players asked manager Frank Rijkaard to promote him.[35] Since Ronaldinho already played on the left wing, Rijkaard moved Messi from his usual position onto the right flank, though initially against the player's wishes, allowing him to cut into the centre of the pitch and shoot with his dominant left foot.[42][43] Messi made his league debut during the next match on 16 October, against Espanyol, coming on in the 82nd minute.[23] At 17 years, three months, and 22 days old, he was at the time the youngest player to represent Barcelona in an official competition.[37] As a substitute player, he played only 77 minutes in nine matches for the first team that season, including his debut in the UEFA Champions League against Shakhtar Donetsk.[41][44] He scored his first senior goal on 1 May 2005, against Albacete, from an assist by Ronaldinho, becoming at that time the youngest-ever scorer for the club.[42][45] Barcelona, in their second season under Rijkaard, won the league for the first time in six years.[46]

2005–08: Making the starting eleven

"In my entire life I have never seen a player of such quality and personality at such a young age, particularly wearing the 'heavy' shirt of one of the world's great clubs."

Fabio Capello praises Messi, aged 18, following the Joan Gamper trophy in August 2005.[47]

On 24 June 2005, his 18th birthday, Messi signed his first contract as a senior team player. It made him a Barcelona player until 2010, two years less than his previous contract, but his buyout clause increased to €150 million.[39] His breakthrough came two months later, on 24 August, during the Joan Gamper trophy, Barcelona's pre-season competition. A starter for the first time, he gave a well-received performance against Fabio Capello's Juventus, receiving an ovation from the Camp Nou.[47] While Capello requested to loan Messi, a bid to buy him came from Inter Milan, who were willing to pay his buyout clause and triple his wages. According to then-president Joan Laporta, it was the only time the club faced a real risk of losing Messi, but he ultimately decided to stay.[48] On 16 September, his contract was updated for the second time in three months and extended to 2014.[39][49]

Messi during a training session with Barça in August 2006

Due to issues regarding his legal status in the Spanish Football Federation, Messi missed the start of La Liga, but on 26 September, he acquired Spanish citizenship and became eligible to play.[49][50] Wearing the number 19 shirt, he gradually established himself as the first-choice right winger, forming an attacking trio with Ronaldinho and striker Samuel Eto'o.[30][51][52] He was in the starting line-up in major matches like his first clásico against rivals Real Madrid on 19 November, as well as their away victory over Chelsea in the last 16 round of the Champions League, where he played his best match to that point.[53][51] After he had scored 8 goals in 25 games, including his first in the Champions League,[54] his season ended prematurely during the return leg against Chelsea on 7 March 2006, when he suffered a torn hamstring. Messi worked to regain fitness in time for the Champions League final, but was told the day of the final that he was not fit enough to play. He was so disappointed that he did not celebrate their victory over Arsenal in Paris, something he later came to regret.[46][51]

"I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentinian football and his name is Messi."

Diego Maradona, February 2006.[55]

While Barcelona began a gradual decline, the 19-year-old Messi established himself as one of the best players in the world during the 2006–07 campaign.[56][57] Already an idol to the culés, the club's supporters, he scored 17 goals in 36 games across all competitions.[57][58] However, he continued to be plagued by major injuries; a metatarsal fracture sustained on 12 November 2006 kept him out of action for three months.[59][60] He recovered in time for the last 16 round of the Champions League against Liverpool, but was effectively marked out of the game; Barcelona, the reigning champions, were out of the competition.[61] In the league, his goal contribution increased towards the end of the season; 11 of his 14 goals came from the last 13 games.[58] On 10 March 2007, he scored his first hat-trick in a clásico, the first player to do so in 12 years, equalizing after each goal by Real Madrid to end the match in a 3–3 draw in injury time.[62] His growing importance to the club was reflected in a new contract, signed that month, which greatly increased his wages.[63]

Messi makes his Maradona-esque run against Getafe in April 2007.

Already frequently compared to compatriot Diego Maradona, Messi proved their similarity when he nearly replicated Maradona's two most famous goals in the span of three weeks.[64] During a Copa del Rey semi-final against Getafe on 18 April, he scored a goal remarkably similar to Maradona's goal in the quarter-finals of the 1986 FIFA World Cup, known as the Goal of the Century. Messi collected the ball on the right side near the halfway line, ran 60 metres (200 ft), and beat five defenders before scoring with an angled finish, just as Maradona had done.[21][65] A league match against Espanyol on 9 June saw him score by launching himself at the ball and guiding it past the goalkeeper with his hand in similar fashion to Maradona's Hand of God goal in the same World Cup match.[66] As Messi continued his individual rise, Barcelona faltered; the team failed to reach the Copa del Rey final after Messi was rested during the second leg against Getafe and lost the league to Real Madrid on goal average.[67][68]

After Ronaldinho lost form, Messi became Barça's new star player at only 20 years old, receiving the nickname "Messiah" from the Spanish media.[21][69][70] His efforts in 2007 also earned him award recognition; journalists voted him the third-best player of the year for the Ballon d'Or, behind Kaká and runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo, while international managers and national team captains voted him second for the FIFA World Player of the Year award, again behind Kaká.[71][72] Although he managed to score 16 goals during the 2007–08 campaign,[73] the second half of his season was again marred by injuries after he suffered a torn hamstring on 15 December.[74] He returned to score twice in their away victory against Celtic in the last 16 round of the Champions League, becoming the competition's top scorer at that point with six goals,[75] but reinjured himself during the return leg on 4 March 2008. Rijkaard had fielded him despite warning from the medical staff, leading captain Carles Puyol to criticise the Spanish media for pressuring Messi to play every match.[74] Barcelona finished the season without trophies, eliminated in the Champions League semi-finals by the eventual champions, Manchester United, and placed third in the league.[76]

2008–09: Winning the sextuple

After two unsuccessful seasons, Barcelona were in need of an overhaul, leading to the dismissals of Rijkaard and Ronaldinho. Upon the latter's departure, Messi was given the number 10 shirt.[52] He signed a new contract in July 2008 on an annual salary of €7.8 million, becoming the club's highest-paid player.[77][78] Ahead of the new season, a major concern remained his frequent muscular injuries, which had left him side-lined for a total of eight months between 2006 and 2008. To combat the problem, the club implemented new training, nutrition, and lifestyle regimens, and assigned him a personal physiotherapist, who would travel with him during call-ups for the Argentina national team. As a result, Messi remained virtually injury-free during the next four years, allowing him to reach his full potential.[60][79] In his first uninterrupted campaign, the 2008–09 season, he scored 38 goals in 51 games, contributing alongside Eto'o and winger Thierry Henry to a total of 100 goals in all competitions, a record at the time for the club.[80][81] Despite his injuries early in the year, his performances in 2008 saw him again voted runner-up for the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award, both times behind Cristiano Ronaldo.[71][82]

Messi shoots nearby Manchester United's penalty area during the Champions League final in May 2009.

During his first season under Barcelona's new manager, former captain Pep Guardiola, Messi played mainly on the right wing, like he had under Rijkaard, though this time as a false winger with the freedom to cut inside and roam the centre. During a clásico on 2 May 2009, however, he played for the first time as a false nine, positioned as a centre-forward but dropping deep to link up with midfielders Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. He assisted with a chip his side's first goal and scored twice to end the match in an emphatic 6–2 victory, their greatest-ever score at Real Madrid's Bernabéu stadium.[83][84] Returning to the wing, he played his first final since breaking into the first team on 13 May, scoring once and assisting a second goal as they defeated Athletic Bilbao 4–1 to win the Copa del Rey.[85] With 23 league goals from Messi that season, they were crowned La Liga champions three days later to win their fifth double.[80][86]

As the season's Champions League top scorer with nine goals, the youngest in the tournament's history,[87] Messi scored two goals and assisted two more to ensure a 4–0 quarter-final victory over Bayern Munich.[83] He returned as a false nine during the final on 27 May in Rome, where they faced Manchester United. When he headed the ball over goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar to make the end score 2–0, Barcelona were champions of Europe, achieving the first treble in the history of Spanish football.[88][89] Their success was reflected in a new contract, signed on 18 September, which committed Messi to the club through 2016 with a new buyout clause of €250 million, while his salary increased to €12 million.[77] Barça's prosperity continued into the second half of 2009, as they became the first club to achieve the sextuple, winning six top-tier trophies in a single year.[90] After victories in the Supercopa de España and UEFA Super Cup in August, they won the FIFA Club World Cup against Estudiantes on 19 December, with Messi scoring the winning 1–2 goal with his chest.[91] At 22 years old, Messi won the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award, both times by the greatest voting margins in each trophy's history.[71]

2010–11: Continued success

"Messi is the best player in the world by some distance. He's like a PlayStation. He can take advantage of every mistake we make."

Arsène Wenger commends Messi for his four–goal display against Arsenal in April 2010.[92]

Unsatisfied with his position on the right wing, Messi resumed playing as a false nine in early 2010, beginning with a Champions League last 16 round match against Stuttgart. After a first-leg draw, they won the second leg 4–0 with two goals and an assist from Messi. At that point, he effectively became the tactical focal point of Guardiola's team, and his goalscoring rate increased.[93] Messi scored a total of 47 goals in all competitions, equal to Ronaldo's club record from the 1996–97 season.[94][95] He notably scored all four goals during their 4–1 win against Arsène Wenger's Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-finals on 6 April, a rare achievement, while becoming Barcelona's all-time top scorer in the competition.[96][97] Although they were eliminated in the Champions League semi-finals by the eventual champions, Inter Milan, Messi finished the season as top scorer, with eight goals, for the second consecutive year.[98] As league top scorer in Spain and Europe with 34 goals, again tying Ronaldo's record, he helped Barcelona win La Liga with only a single defeat.[95][99]

Messi (centre) and his teammates celebrate winning the FIFA Club World Cup in December 2011

Messi secured their first trophy of the 2010–11 campaign, the Supercopa de España, by scoring a hat-trick in their 4–0 victory over Sevilla, after a first-leg defeat.[100] Assuming a playmaking role, he was again instrumental in a clásico on 29 November 2010, the first with José Mourinho in charge of Real Madrid, as Barcelona defeated their rivals 5–0.[101] Messi helped the team achieve 16 consecutive league victories, a record in Spanish football, concluding with another hat-trick against Atlético Madrid on 5 February.[102][103] His club performances in 2010 earned him the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or, an amalgamation of the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award, though his win was met with some criticism due to his lack of success with Argentina at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.[71][104] Under the award's old format, he would have placed just outside the top three, owing his win to the votes from the international coaches and captains.[104]

Towards the end of the season, Barcelona played four clásicos in the span of 18 days. A league match on 16 April ended in a draw after a penalty from Messi, securing their third consecutive La Liga title. In addition to his 31 goals, Messi was the league's top assist provider with 18 assists.[105][106] After they lost the Copa del Rey final, he scored both goals in their 2–0 win in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals, the second of which—a dribble past three players—was acclaimed as one of the best ever in the competition. Although he did not score, he was again important in the second-leg draw that sent them through to the Champions League final,[24][107][108] where they faced Manchester United in a repeat of the final two years earlier. As the competition's top scorer for the third consecutive year, with 12 goals, Messi gave a man-of-the-match performance at Wembley on 28 May 2011, scoring the match-winning goal of their 3–1 victory.[109][110] He finished the season with 53 goals and 24 assists in all competitions, becoming Barcelona's all-time single-season top scorer and the first player in Spanish football to reach the 50-goal benchmark.[105][111][112][113]

As Messi developed into a combination of a number eight (a creator), a nine (scorer), and a 10 (assistant), he scored an unprecedented 73 goals and provided 29 assists in all club competitions during the 2011–12 season, producing a hat-trick or more on 10 occasions.[114][115][116] He began the campaign by helping Barcelona win both the Spanish and European super cups; in the Supercopa de España, he scored three times to achieve a 5–4 aggregate victory over Real Madrid, overtaking Raúl as the competition's all-time top scorer with eight goals.[117][118] At the close of the year, on 18 December, he scored twice in the FIFA Club World Cup final, a 0–4 victory over Santos, winning the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament, as he had done two years previously.[119] For his efforts in 2011, he again received the FIFA Ballon d'Or, becoming only the fourth player in history to win the Ballon d'Or three times, after Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, and Marco van Basten.[120] Additionally, he won the inaugural UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, a revival of the old-style Ballon d'Or.[121] By then, Messi was widely considered one of the best players in history, alongside legends like Diego Maradona and Pelé.[24]

2012: A record-breaking year

"I feel sorry for those who want to compete for Messi's throne—it's impossible, this kid is unique."

Pep Guardiola after Messi became Barcelona's all-time top scorer at age 24 in March 2012[122][123]

As Messi maintained his goalscoring form into the second half of the season, the year 2012 saw him break several longstanding records. On 7 March, two weeks after scoring four goals in a league fixture against Valencia, he scored five times in a Champions League last 16 round match against Bayer Leverkusen, an unprecedented achievement in the history of the competition.[124][125] In addition to being the joint top assist provider with five assists, this feat made him top scorer with 14 goals, tying José Altafini's record from the 1962–63 season, as well as becoming only the second player after Gerd Müller to be top scorer in four campaigns.[126][127] Two weeks later, on 20 March, Messi became the top goalscorer in Barcelona's history at 24 years old, overtaking the 57-year record of César Rodríguez's 232 goals with a hat-trick against Granada.[123]

Messi points to the sky during his five-goal display against Bayer Leverkusen in March 2012.

Despite Messi's individual form, Barcelona's four-year cycle of success under Guardiola—one of the greatest eras in the club's history—drew to an end.[128] Although they won the Copa del Rey against Athletic Bilbao, their fourteenth title of that period, they lost the league to Real Madrid and were eliminated in the Champions League semi-finals by the eventual champions, Chelsea, with Messi sending a crucial second-leg penalty kick against the crossbar.[129][130] In their last league match, against Espanyol, Messi scored all four goals before approaching the bench to embrace Guardiola, who had announced his resignation as manager.[131] He finished the season as league top scorer in Spain and Europe for a second time, with 50 goals, an all-time La Liga record, while his 73 goals in all competitions surpassed Gerd Müller's 67 goals in the 1972–73 Bundesliga season, making him the single-season top scorer in the history of European club football.[132][133]

Under manager Tito Vilanova, who had first coached him aged 14 at La Masia, Messi helped the club achieve their best-ever start to a La Liga season during the second half of the year, amassing 55 points by the competition's midway point, a record in Spanish football.[134][135] A double scored on 9 December against Real Betis saw him break two longstanding records: he surpassed César Rodríguez's record of 190 league goals, becoming Barcelona's all-time top scorer in La Liga, and Gerd Müller's record of most goals scored in a calendar year, overtaking his 85 goals scored in 1972 for Bayern Munich and Germany.[136] He sent Müller a number 10 Barcelona shirt, signed "with respect and admiration", after breaking his 40-year record.[137] At the close of the year, Messi had scored an unprecedented 91 goals in all competitions for Barcelona and Argentina.[138] Although FIFA did not acknowledge the achievement, citing verifiability issues, he received the Guinness World Records title for most goals scored in a calendar year.[139][140] As the odds-on favourite, Messi again won the FIFA Ballon d'Or, becoming the only player in history to win the Ballon d'Or four times.[138][141]

2013–14: Messidependence

Barcelona had virtually secured their La Liga title by the start of 2013, eventually equalling Real Madrid's 100-point record of the previous season. However, their performances deteriorated in the second half of the 2012–13 campaign, concurrently with Vilanova's absence due to ill health.[142][143] After losing successive clásicos, including the Copa del Rey semi-finals, they were nearly eliminated in the first knockout round of the Champions League by AC Milan, but a revival of form in the second leg led to a 4–0 comeback, with two goals and an assist from Messi.[144] Now in his ninth senior season with Barcelona, Messi signed a new contract on 7 February, committing himself to the club through 2018, while his fixed wage rose to €13 million.[145][146] He wore the captain's armband for the first time a month later, on 17 March, in a league match against Rayo Vallecano; by then, he had become the team's tactical focal point to a degree that was arguably rivalled only by former Barcelona legends Josep Samitier, László Kubala, and Johan Cruyff.[147] Since his evolution into a false nine three years earlier, his input into the team's attack had increased exponentially; from 24 percent in their treble-winning campaign, his goal contribution rose to more than 40 percent that season.[148]

"In Leo we are talking about the best player in the world and when things are not going well you have to use him. Even if he is half lame, his presence on the pitch is enough to lift us and our play in general."

—Defender Gerard Piqué explains Barcelona's reliance on an unfit Messi against Paris Saint-Germain in April 2013.[149]

After four largely injury-free seasons, the muscular injuries that had previously plagued Messi reoccurred. After he suffered a hamstring strain on 2 April, during the first quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain, his appearances became sporadic. In the second leg against PSG, with an underperforming Barcelona down a goal, Messi came off the bench in the second half and within nine minutes helped create their game-tying goal, which allowed them to progress to the semi-finals. Still unfit, he proved ineffective during the first leg against Bayern Munich and was unable to play at all during the second, as Barcelona were defeated 7–0 on aggregate by the eventual champions.[150][151] These matches gave credence to the notion of Messidependencia, Barcelona's perceived tactical and psychological dependence on their star player.[151]

Messi continued to struggle with injury throughout 2013, eventually parting ways with his long-time personal physiotherapist.[152] Further damage to his hamstring sustained on 12 May ended his goalscoring streak of 21 consecutive league games, a worldwide record; he had netted 33 goals during his run, including a four-goal display against Osasuna, while becoming the first player to score consecutively against all 19 opposition teams in La Liga.[147][153][154][155] With 60 goals in all competitions, including 46 goals in La Liga, he finished the campaign as league top scorer in Spain and Europe for the second consecutive year, becoming the first player in history to win the European Golden Shoe three times.[156][157] Following an irregular start to the new season under manager Tata Martino, formerly of his boyhood club Newell's Old Boys, Messi suffered his fifth injury that year when he tore his hamstring on 10 November, leaving him side-lined for two months.[158][159] Despite his injuries, he was voted runner-up for the FIFA Ballon d'Or, relinquishing the award after a four-year monopoly to Cristiano Ronaldo.[160]

Messi celebrates his second goal against Granada in September 2014.

During the second half of the 2013–14 season, doubts persisted over Messi's form, leading to a perception among the culés that he was reserving himself for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Statistically, his contribution of goals, shots, and passes had dropped significantly compared to previous seasons.[161][162][163] He still produced fine moments, as he did when he broke two longstanding records in seven days: a hat-trick on 16 March against Osasuna saw him overtake Paulino Alcántara's 369 goals to become Barcelona's top goalscorer in all competitions including friendlies, while another hat-trick against Real Madrid on 23 March made him the all-time top scorer in El Clásico, ahead of the 18 goals scored by Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stéfano.[161][164] Messi finished the campaign with his worst output in five seasons, though he still managed to score 41 goals in all competitions.[162][165] For the first time in five years, Barcelona ended the season without a major trophy; they were defeated in the Copa del Rey final by Real Madrid and lost the league in the last game to Atlético Madrid, causing Messi to be booed by sections of fans at the Camp Nou.[166][167]

After prolonged speculation over his future with the club, Messi signed a new contract on 19 May 2014, only a year after his last contractual update; his salary increased to €20 million, or €36 million before taxes, the highest wages ever in the sport.[168][169] Under their new manager, former captain Luis Enrique, Messi experienced a largely injury-free start to the 2014–15 season, allowing him to break three more longstanding records towards the end of the year.[170] A hat-trick scored against Sevilla on 22 November made him the all-time top scorer in La Liga, as he surpassed the 59-year record of 251 league goals held by Telmo Zarra.[171] Three days later, he scored another hat-trick against APOEL, overtaking Raúl's 71 goals to become top scorer in the history of the Champions League.[172] A third hat-trick, scored against city rivals Espanyol on 7 December, allowed him to surpass César Rodríguez as the all-time top scorer in the Derbi barceloní with 12 goals.[173] Messi again placed second in the FIFA Ballon d'Or behind Cristiano Ronaldo, largely owing to his second-place achievement with Argentina at the World Cup.[174]

2015: A historic treble

"Messi is an alien that dedicates himself to playing with humans."

Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon ahead of their meeting in the Champions League final in June 2015[175]

At the start of 2015, Barcelona were perceived to be headed for another disappointing end to the season, with renewed speculation in the media that Messi was leaving the club. A turning point came on 11 January during a 3–1 victory over Atlético Madrid, the first time Barça's attacking trident of Messi, Luis Suárez, and Neymar each scored in a match, marking the beginning of a highly successful run.[176][177] After five years of playing as a false nine, Messi had returned to his old position on the right wing late the previous year, by his own suggestion according to Suárez, their striker.[177][178] From there, he regained his best—arguably his best-ever—form, while Suárez and Neymar ended the team's attacking dependency on their star player.[179][180] With 58 goals from Messi, the trio scored a total of 122 goals in all competitions that season, a record in Spanish football.[181][182]

Messi battles Juventus defender Patrice Evra for the ball during the Champions League final in June 2015.

Towards the end of the campaign, Messi scored the only goal in a 1–0 win over Atlético Madrid on 17 May, securing the La Liga title.[183] Among his 43 league goals that season was a hat-trick scored in 11 minutes against Rayo Vallecano on 8 March, the fastest of his senior career; it was his thirty-second hat-trick overall for Barcelona, allowing him to overtake Telmo Zarra as the player with the most hat-tricks ever in Spanish football.[182][184] Additionally, as the season's top assist provider with 18 assists, he had surpassed Luís Figo as the player with the most assists in La Liga; he had made his record 106th assist in a fixture against Levante on 15 February, in which he also scored a hat-trick.[185][186][187][note 1] Messi then scored twice as Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao 3–1 in the Copa del Rey final, achieving the sixth double in their history. His opening goal was hailed as one of the greatest in his career; he collected the ball near the halfway line and beat four opposing players, before feinting the goalkeeper to score in a tight space by the near post.[188]

In the Champions League, Messi scored twice and assisted another in their 3–0 semi-final victory over Bayern Munich, now under the stewardship of Guardiola.[189] His second goal, which came only three minutes after his first, saw him dribble past Jérôme Boateng, making the defender lose his footing and drop to the ground; it went viral and was subsequently named the best goal of the season by UEFA based on an online voting.[190][191] Despite a second-leg loss, Barcelona progressed to the final on 6 June in Berlin, where they defeated Juventus 3–1 to win their second treble, becoming the first club in history to win the league, domestic cup, and European cup twice.[192][193] Although Messi did not score, he participated in each of his side's goals, particularly the second as he forced a parried save from goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon from which Suárez scored the match-winning goal on the rebound.[181] In addition to being the top assist provider with 6 assists, Messi finished the competition as the joint top scorer, with 10 goals, which earned him the distinction of being the first player ever to achieve the top scoring mark in five Champions League seasons.[194][195] His efforts that season earned him the UEFA Best Player in Europe award for a second time.[196]

Messi opened the 2015–16 season by scoring twice, both times from a free kick, in Barça's 5–4 victory over Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup.[197] A subsequent 5–1 aggregate defeat against Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de España ended their expressed hopes of a second sextuple, with Messi scoring his side's only goal.[198]

International career

Often referred to as an Argentine-Spanish player, this crossover was brought into sharp focus when in 2004, Messi was offered the chance to play for the Spanish national U-20 team. He declined the offer given his Argentine heritage, and was given the opportunity to play for Argentina's U-20 team in a friendly match against Paraguay in June 2004.[199] Messi scored once against Paraguay and twice in friendly against Uruguay the following month.[200] In 2005 he was part of a team that finished third in the South American Youth Championship in Colombia. He won the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands with the team and received both the Golden Ball and the Golden Shoe,[201] having scored in the last four of Argentina's matches and netting a total of six for the tournament.

At age 18, Messi made his full international debut on 17 August 2005 against Hungary. He was substituted on during the 63rd minute, but was sent off on the 65th minute because the referee, Markus Merk, claimed that Messi had allegedly elbowed defender Vilmos Vanczák, who was tugging Messi's shirt. The decision was contentious and Diego Maradona even claimed the decision was pre-meditated. Messi was later reportedly found weeping in the changing rooms after the decision.[202][203] Messi returned to the team on 3 September in Argentina's 1–0 World Cup qualifier away defeat to Paraguay. Ahead of the match he had said, "This is a re-debut. The first one was a bit short."[204] He then started his first game for Argentina in a World Cup qualifier against Peru, in which he was able to win a crucial penalty for Argentina to win the match; after the match national coach José Pékerman described Messi as "a jewel".[205] He scored his first goal for Argentina in a friendly match against Croatia on 1 March 2006.[206]

2006 World Cup

An injury that kept Messi from playing for two months at the end of the 2005–06 season jeopardised his presence in the 2006 World Cup. Nevertheless, Messi was selected in the Argentina squad for the tournament on 15 May 2006. He also played in the final match before the World Cup against the Argentine U-20 team for 15 minutes and a friendly match against Angola from the 64th minute.[207][208] He witnessed Argentina's opening match victory against Ivory Coast from the substitutes' bench.[209]

In the next match against Serbia and Montenegro, Messi became the youngest player to represent Argentina at a World Cup when he came on as a substitute for Maxi Rodríguez in the 74th minute.[210][211] He assisted Hernán Crespo's goal within minutes of entering the game and also scored the final goal in the 6–0 victory, making him the youngest scorer in the tournament and the sixth youngest goalscorer in the history of the World Cup.[211] Messi started in Argentina's following 0–0 draw against the Netherlands.[212] In the following game against Mexico, Messi came on as a substitute in the 84th minute, with the score tied at 1–1. He appeared to score a goal, but it was ruled offside with Argentina needing a late goal in extra time to proceed.[213][214] José Pekerman left Messi on the bench during the quarter-final match against Germany, which they lost 4–2 on a penalty shootout.[215]

2007 Copa América

Messi played his first game in the 2007 Copa América on 29 June 2007, when Argentina defeated United States 4–1 in the first game. In this game, he showed his capabilities as a playmaker. He set up a goal for fellow striker Hernán Crespo and had numerous shots on target. Carlos Tevez came on as a substitute for Messi in the 79th minute and scored minutes later.[216]

Messi in a semi-final match against Peru during the 2007 Copa América on 8 July 2007

His second game was against Colombia, in which he won a penalty that Crespo converted to tie the game at 1–1. He also played a part in Argentina's second goal as he was fouled outside the box, which allowed Juan Roman Riquelme to score from a free kick, and increase Argentina's lead to 3–1. The final score of the game was 4–2 in Argentina's favor and guaranteed them a spot in the tournament's quarter-finals.[217]

In the third game, against Paraguay the coach rested Messi having already qualified for the quarter-finals. He came off the bench in place of Esteban Cambiasso in the 64th minute, with the score at 0–0. In the 79th minute, he assisted a goal for Javier Mascherano.[218] In the quarter-finals, as Argentina faced Peru, Messi scored the second goal of the game, from a Riquelme pass in a 4–0 win.[219] During the semi-final match against Mexico, Messi scored a lob over Oswaldo Sánchez to see Argentina through to the final with a 3–0 win.[220] Argentina went on to lose 3–0 to Brazil in the final.[221] Messi was elected young player of the tournament.[222]

2008 Summer Olympics

Messi playing against Brazil in the semi-finals of the 2008 Olympics on 19 August 2008

Having barred Messi from playing for Argentina in the 2008 Olympics,[223] Barcelona agreed to release him after he held talks with newly appointed coach Pep Guardiola.[224] He joined the Argentina squad and scored the first goal in a 2–1 victory over Ivory Coast.[224] He then scored the opening goal and assisted Ángel Di María in the second to help his side to a 2–1 extra-time win against the Netherlands.[225] He also featured in Argentina's match against rivals Brazil, in which Argentina took a 3–0 victory, thus advancing to the final.[226] In the gold medal match, Messi again assisted Di María for the only goal in a 1–0 victory over Nigeria.[227] Along with his team-mate Riquelme, Messi was singled out by FIFA as Argentina's standout player of the tournament.[228]

2010 World Cup qualification

On 28 March 2009, in a World Cup qualifier against Venezuela, Messi wore the number 10 jersey for the first time with Argentina. This match was the first official match for Diego Maradona as the Argentina manager. Argentina won the match 4–0 with Messi opening the scoring.[229] Overall, Messi scored four goals in 18 appearances during the South American 2010 World Cup qualifying process.[230]

2010 World Cup

Messi and Argentina lost 4–0 against Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup

In the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Messi wore the number 10 shirt for the first time in a major tournament. He played the entire game on Argentina's opening match of the tournament, the 1–0 victory against Nigeria. He had several opportunities to score but was repeatedly denied by Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama,[231] who was named man of the match by FIFA.[232] Messi started in Argentina's following 4–1 win against Korea Republic; he played in more of an attacking midfielder and playmaking role under Maradona,[233][234] and participated in all of the goals of his team, helping Gonzalo Higuaín score a hat-trick.[235] In the third group match, Messi was named captain for Argentina in a 2–0 win over Greece. He was again the centrepoint of Argentina's play, playing an important role in both of his team's goals,[236] and was voted man of the match.[237]

In the Round of 16, he assisted Carlos Tevez's controversial opening goal in a 3–1 win against Mexico.[238] The World Cup ended for Argentina with a 4–0 loss against Germany in the quarter-finals.[239] Messi was included in the ten player shortlist for the Golden Ball award by the FIFA Technical Study Group. The group identified Messi with the following words: "Outstanding in his pace and creativity for his team, dribbling, shooting, passing – spectacular and efficient".[240]

2011 Copa América

Messi (right) challenging Granit Xhaka for the ball during an international friendly between Switzerland and Argentina on 29 February 2012

On 17 November 2010, Messi scored a last-minute goal against South American rivals Brazil after an individual effort to help his team to a 1–0 win in the friendly match, which was held in Doha. This was the first time that he had scored against Brazil at senior level.[241] On 9 February 2011, Messi faced his rival Cristiano Ronaldo in a much anticipated friendly match against Portugal, which was held in Geneva, Switzerland. After assisting the opening goal, he scored another last-minute winner from a penalty kick to give his side a 2–1 victory.[242]

Messi took part in the 2011 Copa América in Argentina, where he failed to score a goal but made three assists, finishing as the joint top assist provider of the tournament.[243] He was selected as man of the match in the group matches against Bolivia (1–1) and Costa Rica (3–0). Argentina were eliminated in the quarter-finals in a penalty shoot-out against the eventual winners of the Copa América, Uruguay (1–1 a.e.t.), with Messi scoring as the first penalty taker.[244] Messi had also previously assisted Higuaín's equaliser in the 17th minute.[244]

2014 World Cup qualification

After Argentina's unsuccessful performance in the Copa América, Sergio Batista was replaced as Argentina coach with Alejandro Sabella. In August 2011, Sabella named Messi as the new permanent captain of the Argentina national team.[245] Messi's first hat-trick for the Albiceleste came in a friendly match against Switzerland, on 29 February 2012, in a 3–1 win for Argentina.[246]

On 9 June 2012, Messi scored his second international hat-trick in a friendly match against rivals Brazil, including the match winner. The match ended 4–3 to Argentina and Messi was voted man of the match.[247] This hat-trick included his record-breaking 82nd goal of the season, including all club and international matches.[248] These goals also made him the fourth-highest goalscorer for the Argentine national team.[249]

On 7 September, Messi scored his 28th goal for Argentina in a 3–1 victory against Paraguay in a 2014 World Cup qualifying match, sending them to the top of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying table. This was his fourth goal in the current World Cup qualifying campaign and his eighth overall in World Cup qualifying matches, making him the third-highest scorer for Argentina in World Cup qualifying matches. This was also his tenth goal for Argentina in the past six matches and his ninth in five matches played in 2012.[250] Messi finished 2012 with 12 goals in nine appearances for Argentina.[251]

On 14 June 2013, Messi scored a hat-trick in a 4–0 friendly win against Guatemala, surpassing Diego Maradona's 34 goals on Argentina's all-time top scorer's list and matching Hernán Crespo for second with 35 goals.[246] Messi surpassed Crespo's tally in the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Paraguay, scoring two goals from penalties as well as providing an assist for Sergio Agüero. The match finished 5–2 to Argentina, ensuring their qualification for the 2014 World Cup with two matches at hand. Messi ended the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign as second-top scorer in the South American section with ten goals.[252] On 7 June 2014, Messi scored in a 2–0 win against Slovenia in a pre-World Cup friendly match, coming on as a substitute; this was his first goal for his national side in the year 2014.[253]

2014 World Cup

Messi captained Argentina in their first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, leading them to a 2–1 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina on 15 June.[254] Argentina's opening goal came after three minutes when Messi's cross into the box from a free kick was met by Argentina defender Marcos Rojo whose header was deflected into the net by Sead Kolašinac.[254] In the 65th minute, Messi scored Argentina's second, going on a trademark dribbling run past three players, after a one-two exchange with Higuaín, before scoring from the edge of the penalty area via a slight deflection off Mensur Mujdža.[255] It was his first World Cup goal since scoring against Serbia and Montenegro on his World Cup debut in a 6–0 win in the 2006 tournament. In the team's second game, Messi scored a stoppage time winner against Iran with a strike from 25 yards out which curled into the left corner of the goal.[256] This was Messi's 40th international goal, and the 1–0 win ensured Argentina qualified for the knockout stage.[257][258] In the team's third group match on 25 June, Messi took his tally in the tournament to four goals, scoring twice in a 3–2 win against Nigeria, his second a free kick, as Argentina finished first in their group.[259] Messi was elected man of the match in all three of Argentina's group games.[260][261][262]

Messi battling Germany's Mats Hummels for the ball at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final

In Argentina's round of 16 match against Switzerland, Messi assisted Ángel Di María's match winning goal in the 118th minute, giving Argentina a 1–0 win after extra time. After receiving the ball from Rodrigo Palacio, Messi began a dribbling run, taking it past Fabian Schär, and laying the ball off for Di María to score.[263] Messi was once again elected man of the match.[264] In the quarter-final match against Belgium, Messi started the play which led to Higuaín's match winning goal, sending Argentina to the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990.[265] Argentina eliminated the Netherlands, 4–2 on penalties in the semi-final, after a 0–0 draw following extra time, allowing them to progress to the World Cup Final for the first time since Maradona had led them there in 1990. Messi was heavily marked by the Dutch and didn't score,[266] but he netted Argentina's first penalty in the shootout.[267]

Messi after Argentina's defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup Final

On 11 July, Messi was named on the 10-man shortlist by the FIFA technical committee for FIFA's Golden Ball award for the tournament's best player.[268] The World Cup final match on 13 July, in a repeat of the 1990 final, was billed as the world's best player [Messi] versus the world's best team [Germany].[266][269] In the 29th minute, Messi had started a play which led to a goal by Higuaín, which was correctly ruled offside. Messi missed several opportunities to open the scoring throughout the match, in particular during his breakaway at the 47th minute, when his effort was put just wide of the far post. The game remained scoreless until German substitute Mario Götze scored in the 113th minute, then in the last minutes of extra time Messi's free kick sailed over the net, and Germany won the game 1-0 to claim the World Cup.[270]

Messi (bottom left) and members of the Argentina national team with Argentina president Cristina Kirchner on 14 July after the 2014 FIFA World Cup

Messi finished as the joint-third-highest goalscorer of the tournament, with four goals and an assist, though Neymar received the Bronze Boot due to the tie-breaking criteria of playing fewer minutes than Messi. Messi's goals against Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina were nominated for the goal of the tournament award, and were voted the ninth and eighth best goals of the tournament, respectively.[271] Messi's four Man of the Match awards were the most of any player in the tournament.[272]

At the conclusion of the World Cup final, Messi was awarded the Golden Ball, as the tournament's best player, ahead of Thomas Müller and Arjen Robben, and was named in the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team. Messi created the most chances, made the most successful dribbling runs, made the most deliveries into the box, and produced the most throughballs of any other player throughout the World Cup.[273] However, the decision to award Messi the Golden Ball sparked controversy amongst the media, as Messi had no goals during the knockout round. FIFA President Sepp Blatter was surprised at the choice of Messi for the Golden Ball, while Argentina's former captain and coach Diego Maradona suggested that "marketing people" had chosen the wrong player for the award.[274][275] On his award and the final, Messi commented: "I do not care about the Golden Ball. I am just upset by the wasted chances. We had the best chances. We knew we could not dominate the game but we knew what we wanted to do. Right now I do not care about my prize. I just wanted to lift the cup and bring it to Argentina. The pain is very great."[276]

2015 Copa América

Messi taking a free-kick during the semi-final against Paraguay.

On 13 June 2015, Messi scored from a penalty kick in Argentina's opening fixture of the 2015 Copa América, a 2–2 draw with Paraguay in La Serena;[277] he was initially named man of the match, but he rejected the award, and it was later given to Nelson Haedo Valdez.[278] Messi was named man of the match in Argentina's 1–0 victory over defending champions Uruguay in their second group match, on 16 June.[279] In the final group game against Jamaica at the Estadio Sausalito in Viña del Mar on 20 June, Messi earned his 100th cap, becoming the fifth Argentine to do so after Javier Zanetti, Javier Mascherano, Roberto Ayala and Diego Simeone.[280]

On 27 June, Messi netted a penalty in Argentina's 5–4 penalty shoot-out victory over Colombia in the quarter-finals of the tournament, following a 0–0 draw,[281] and was named man of the match.[282] During Argentina's 6–1 defeat of Paraguay at the semi-final stage, he became the first player at the 2015 tournament to assist three goals in a game;[283] he was once again voted man of the match.[284] On 4 July, Messi was the only Argentine to successfully convert a penalty in Argentina's 4–1 penalty shoot-out defeat to hosts Chile in the 2015 Copa América final, after a 0–0 draw following extra-time.[285] Messi once again finished the tournament as the top assist provider, alongside Jorge Valdivia, with 3 assists,[286] and was named to the team of the tournament for his performances,[287] having been involved in all of his team's goals.[288] It was reported that he had also won the Most Valuable Player award following the final, but rejected it, resulting in the prize being left vacant.[289]

Style of play

Messi, playing for Argentina in 2011, has been compared to compatriot Diego Maradona and two-time FIFA/Ballon d'Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo

Messi has been compared to compatriot Diego Maradona, due to their similar playing style and stature,[290] which gives him a lower centre of gravity than most players, allowing him to be more agile and change direction more quickly, helping him to evade opposing tackles.[291] His short, strong legs allow him to excel in short bursts of acceleration and his quick feet allow him to keep control of the ball when dribbling at speed.[292] His former FC Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola, once stated: "Messi is the only player that runs faster with the ball than he does without it."[293] Like Maradona before him, Messi is predominantly a left footed player;[294][295] during the 2014–15 season however, he was able to partially improve his ability with his weaker foot.[296] With the outside of his left foot, he usually begins dribbling runs, while he uses the inside of his foot to finish and provide passes and assists to team mates.[291] Messi is widely regarded as one of the best players of all time and, alongside Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo, as one of the two best players in the world today.[4][6][7][8][297]

Due to his pace, stamina, and technical ability, Messi often undertakes individual dribbling runs towards goal, in particular during counterattacks, usually starting from the halfway line, or the right side of the pitch. However, he has also been described as a well-rounded, hard-working team player, known for his creative combinations, in particular with Barcelona midfield team mates Xavi and Iniesta.[298][299][300] He is also an accurate free kick and penalty kick taker.[301] With regard to his dribbling ability, Maradona has said of Messi: "The ball stays glued to his foot; I’ve seen great players in my career, but I’ve never seen anyone with Messi's ball control."[291] Maradona considers Messi to currently be the greatest player in the world.[302][303] Despite being neither physically imposing nor dominant in the air, due to his small stature and physique, Messi possesses notable upper-body strength, which, along with his balance and control, aids him in protecting the ball and withstanding physical challenges from opponents.[304]

Messi dribbling past Roma defense in 2015.

Tactically, Messi plays a free attacking role;[305] a prolific goalscorer, he is known for his finishing, skill, positioning, quick reactions,[306] and his ability to make attacking runs to beat the defensive line.[291] He also functions in a playmaking role, due to his vision and precise passing.[299][307] A versatile player, Messi is capable of playing anywhere along the front line, as he is comfortable attacking on either wing or through the centre of the pitch.[308] He began his career as a left-winger or as a left-sided forward, but was later moved onto the right wing by former Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard, who noticed that from this position, Messi could cut through the defence into the middle of the pitch more easily, allowing him to curl shots on goal with his left foot, rather than predominantly crossing balls for team mates.[309] He has more recently played as a striker, and in a "false 9" role under Guardiola.[310] This role is characterised by Messi's apparent tendency to play as a centre forward, or as a lone striker, although he will often run back into deep positions, drawing defenders with him. His movement creates space for wingers, other forwards, and attacking midfielders to make runs, allowing him to provide them with assists, or giving him space to begin dribbling runs, and score goals or create attacking plays.[310] With the Argentina national team, Messi usually plays anywhere along the front line. He began as a supporting forward, striker, or winger, but recently he has also played in a deeper, creative role, as an attacking midfield playmaker.[233][234]

Comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo

Messi with Cristiano Ronaldo before an international friendly between Portugal and Argentina in Geneva, Switzerland on 9 February 2011

Both players have scored in two UEFA Champions League finals and have regularly broken the 50 goal barrier in a single season. Both have scored over 400 goals in their career for club and country.[311][312] Sports journalists and pundits regularly argue the individual merits of both players in an attempt to argue who they believe is the best player in modern football.[313] It has been compared to legendary sports rivalries such as the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier rivalry in boxing which culminated with the Thrilla in Manila, the Borg–McEnroe rivalry in tennis, and the Ayrton Senna-Alain Prost rivalry from Formula One.[314][315]

"Even before he [Ronaldo] signed for Madrid, I knew he would be my great rival in the following years."

— Messi commenting on his rivalry with Ronaldo.[316]

Some commentators choose to analyse the differing physiques and playing styles of the two,[317] while part of the debate revolves around the contrasting personalities of the two players: Ronaldo is sometimes depicted as an arrogant and theatrical showoff, while Messi is portrayed as a shy, humble character.[318][319][320][321]

With Messi and Ronaldo representing bitter Spanish rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two players face each other at least twice every season in the world's biggest club game, El Clásico, which is among the world's most viewed annual sports events.[322] Off the field, they are the face of two rival sportswear giants, Messi of Adidas and Ronaldo of Nike.[323] The two highest paid players in football, Ronaldo and Messi are among the world's best paid sports stars: in 2013, Ronaldo was second earning $80 million, and Messi was fourth with $64.7 million.[324] They have the two biggest social media followings in the world among sportspeople with a combined 185 million Facebook fans by March 2015.[325]

Many figures in the sport have cited Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as being the two best players of their generation, such as Johan Cruyff,[326] Diego Maradona[327] and the Brazilian Ronaldo.[328] The two players have been named the world's best player by FIFA every year since 2008: FIFA World Player of the Year (Ronaldo 2008, Messi 2009) and FIFA Ballon d'Or (Messi 2010, 2011, 2012, Ronaldo 2013, 2014).[329] Cristiano Ronaldo's former Real Madrid manager, José Mourinho, once stated: "If both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were born in different eras, they would have ruled the football scene and collected 10 FIFA Ballon d'Ors each."[330]

Outside football

Personal life

Messi during a Barcelona training session at the Camp Nou on 21 May 2009

Messi was at one stage romantically linked to Macarena Lemos, also from his hometown of Rosario. He is said to have been introduced to her by the girl's father when he returned to Rosario to recover from his injury a few days before the start of the 2006 World Cup.[331][332] He has in the past also been linked to the Argentine glamour model Luciana Salazar.[333][334]

In January 2009, he told "Hat Trick Barça", a programme on Canal 33: "I have a girlfriend and she is living in Argentina. I am relaxed and happy".[334] He was seen with the girl, Antonella Roccuzzo,[335] at a carnival in Sitges after the Barcelona-Espanyol derby. Roccuzzo is a fellow native of Rosario.[336] On 2 June 2012, Messi assisted and scored a goal in Argentina's 4–0 win against Ecuador in a World Cup 2014 Qualifying match. He celebrated scoring his 23rd goal for Argentina, by placing the ball under his jersey, as his girlfriend was reportedly 12 weeks pregnant. She posted on Twitter that she expected to give birth in September.[337] Messi stated that the child, a son, would be born in October, and that he and his girlfriend would name him Thiago.

However, the birth came later than expected. On 2 November 2012, Messi became a father for the first time following the birth of his son Thiago. FC Barcelona's official website briefly stated "Leo Messi is a father". Furthermore, the Argentine striker added on his Facebook page: "Today I am the happiest man in the world, my son was born and thanks to God for this gift!"[338][339] He also had the boy's name and handprints tattooed on his left calf.[340]

To celebrate his son's first birthday, Messi and Thiago were part of a publicity campaign for UNICEF.[341] Those who signed up and participated in the social-media campaign had the chance to win a pair of Messi's shoes or a signed Messi T-shirt.[341]

Messi has maintained close ties to Rosario and his family since leaving for Spain, and has gone to great lengths to maintain them. He keeps in daily contact via phone and text with a small group of confidants from Rosario, most of them fellow members of "The Machine of '87". One time when he was in training with the Argentina national team in Buenos Aires, he made a three-hour trip by car to Rosario immediately after practice to have dinner with his family, spent the night with them, and then returned to Buenos Aires the next day in time for practice. Messi has also kept ownership of his old house in Rosario, although his family no longer lives in it; he maintains a penthouse apartment in an exclusive residential building in which his mother lives (Messi's father spends most of his time in Spain with him), as well as a family compound just outside the city.[338]

Charity

In 2007, Messi established the Leo Messi Foundation, a charity supporting access to education and health care for vulnerable children.[342][343] 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.[344] Messi's foundation is supported by his own fundraising activity with additional assistance from Herbalife.

On 11 March 2010, Messi was announced as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.[345] Messi's UNICEF ambassador activities are aimed at supporting children’s rights. Messi is supported in this by Barcelona, who also have a strong association with UNICEF.[346]

He and Newell's have also ended a long public feud. Messi funded the construction of a dormitory inside Newell's stadium for the club's youth academy, as well as a new gymnasium for the club. For their part, Newell's has begun to embrace their ties with Messi, and plans to issue a special club membership card to Messi's son.[338]

In March 2013, Lionel Messi donated €600,000 towards the refurbishment of a children's hospital in his hometown of Rosario, Argentina. The money was used to renovate the oncology unit at the Victor J Vilela Children's Hospital, as well as paying for doctors to travel to Barcelona for training.[347]

In January 2015, Messi teamed up with tennis star Serena Williams as ambassadors in a new campaign, called "1 in 11" (represents the number of children worldwide who are unable to attend school), the result of a collaboration between UNICEF, the F.C. Barcelona Foundation, and Reach Out To Asia (ROTA). The campaign's aim is to help children around the world reach their potential through sport and education by raising funds for education programmes.[348]

Wealth

In March 2010, France Football ranked Messi at the top of its list of the world's richest footballers, ahead of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, with €33 million ($45 million) in combined income from salaries, bonuses and off-field earnings for the previous 12 months.[349][350] In May 2014, Forbes ranked Messi second behind Cristiano Ronaldo in their list of the world's highest paid players with earnings of $65 million in the previous 12 months.[351]

Salary

In December 2012, Barcelona announced that Messi would sign a five-year contract extension which will keep him at the club until 2018 and raising his base salary to €16 million ($21.2 million) net, which will make him the highest on-field earner in football. As the tax bracket for this level of income in Spain is 56%, it means that Barcelona will have to pay Messi's income tax of a little over €20 million ($26.5 million).[352] His formal buy-out clause remains at €250 million.[353]

Sponsorships

In September 2012, Messi became the global brand ambassador of Turkish Airlines.[354] Messi shot a commercial for the airline with NBA star Kobe Bryant. In the airline's latest commercial, the duo competes to win the attention of a young boy.[355] Messi appeared in a 2012 television advert for Japanese face wash Scalp-D.[356] In December 2013, Messi appeared in an advertisement for South Korean company Samsung, along with 10 other football players from around the globe, as the captain of a Galaxy XI managed by German football legend Franz Beckenbauer.[357]

In February 2014, Messi appeared in a Gillette advertisement with tennis star Roger Federer. He was announced as the global face of the company's international football campaign. Gillette has also become a partner of the Leo Messi Foundation to support its mission.[358]

Tax evasion

Messi's father, Jorge Horacio Messi, was under investigation for an alleged €4 million in unpaid taxes from 2007 to 2009. Messi and his father were accused of channelling funds through the United Kingdom and Switzerland, to a number of shell companies set up in tax havens of Belize and Uruguay, in order to shield royalties and other licensing income from Spanish income tax which allowed them to avoid paying around €4.165 million.[359][360]

The elder Messi made a payment of over €5 million in August 2013 to cover the unpaid taxes, plus interest. The prosecutor originally agreed that Jorge was responsible for the tax schemes and recommended that the charges be dismissed. However, a Barcelona court stated that there was sufficient evidence proving that the younger Messi should have known about and consented to the tax scheme and ordered them both to stand trial on tax evasion charges in autumn 2014.[361][362][363]

Media

An example of Messi's popularity and influence, photographed in India

Messi was featured alone on the front covers of the video games Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 and Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 and was also involved in promotional campaigns for the games.[364][365] Messi, along with Fernando Torres,[366] was the joint face of Pro Evolution Soccer 2010, and was also involved in the motion capturing and the trailer.[367][368][369] This meant that Messi was the face and on the front cover of Pro Evolution Soccer from 2009 to 2011. However, in November 2011, Messi was confirmed as the new face of PES's rival football series FIFA with his debut as a cover star of the series coming in 2012's FIFA Street. Messi was also chosen to be on the cover of FIFA 13, FIFA 14, FIFA 15 and FIFA 16.[370] Messi is sponsored by the German sportswear company Adidas and features in their television advertisements.[371] In June 2010, Messi also signed a three–year contract with Herbalife which further supports the Leo Messi Foundation.[372]

Messi was named twice in the Time 100, Time magazine's annual list of the most influential people in the world, in 2011[373] and in 2012.[374] Within a few hours of its launch in April 2011, Messi's Facebook page had more than six million followers,[375] and in 2013, Messi became the second sportsperson, after Cristiano Ronaldo, to amass over 50 million followers.[376]

Messi ranked second behind Neymar in SportsPro magazine's 2013 list of the world's most marketable athletes.[10] Japanese jeweller Ginza Takana used a cast of Messi's left foot to create a solid gold replica, weighing 25 kilograms (55 lb), which went on sale in Japan in March 2013 to raise funds for victims of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. It was valued at $5.25 million.[377]

In 2014, Messi was the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia, titled Messi, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September.[378][379] On 12 February 2015, a photograph of Messi facing the World Cup Trophy during the final at Maracanã Stadium in which Argentina lost 1-0 to Germany, was voted 2014's best sports image in the World Press Photo of the Year, titled "The Final Game".[380]

Career statistics

Club

As of match played 17 August 2015.
Club Season League Copa del Rey Europe Other Total
Division Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Barcelona C 2003–04[381] Tercera División 10 5 10 5
Barcelona B 2003–04[382] Segunda División B 5 0 5 0
2004–05[383] 17 6 17 6
Total 32 11 32 11
Barcelona 2004–05[383] La Liga 7 1 1 0 1 0 9 1
2005–06[384] 17 6 2 1 6 1 0 0 25 8
2006–07[385] 26 14 2 2 5 1 3[a] 0 36 17
2007–08[386] 28 10 3 0 9 6 40 16
2008–09[387] 31 23 8 6 12 9 51 38
2009–10[388] 35 34 3 1 11 8 4[b] 4 53 47
2010–11[389] 33 31 7 7 13 12 2[c] 3 55 53
2011–12[390] 37 50 7 3 11 14 5[d] 6 60 73
2012–13[391] 32 46 5 4 11 8 2[c] 2 50 60
2013–14[392] 31 28 6 5 7 8 2[c] 0 46 41
2014–15[393] 38 43 6 5 13 10 57 58
2015–16[393] 2 0 0 0 0 0 3[e] 3 4 3
Total 317 286 50 34 99 77 21 18 487 415
Career total 349 297 50 34 99 77 21 18 519 426
  1. ^ One appearance in UEFA Super Cup, two appearances in Supercopa de España
  2. ^ One appearance in UEFA Super Cup, One appearance and two goals in Supercopa de España, two appearances and two goals in FIFA Club World Cup
  3. ^ a b c Appearances in Supercopa de España
  4. ^ One appearance and one goal in UEFA Super Cup, two appearances and three goals in Supercopa de España, two appearances and two goals in FIFA Club World Cup
  5. ^ One appearance and two goals in UEFA Super Cup, two appearances and one goal in Supercopa de España

International

Messi playing against Portugal in Geneva, Switzerland, on 9 February 2011
As of match played 5 September 2015[394][200][395][396][397]
International statistics
Team Year Apps Goals
Argentina 2005 5 0
2006 7 2
2007 14 6
2008 8 2
2009 10 3
2010 10 2
2011 13 4
2012 9 12
2013 7 6
2014 13 8
2015 7 3
Total 104 48

Honours

Club

Barcelona[398]

International

Argentina[398]

Winner:

Runner-Up:

Bronze Medalist:

Individual

Personal[398]

Records

As of 27 August 2015

World

Europe

Argentina

Spain

Barcelona

  • Top Goalscorer in Barcelona history: 440[420]
  • Top Goalscorer in official competitions: 412[420]
  • Top Goalscorer in La Liga: 286[420]
  • Top Goalscorer in Spanish Super Cup: 11[420]
  • Top Goalscorer in UEFA Champions League: 77
  • Top Goalscorer in UEFA Super Cup: 3
  • Top Goalscorer in FIFA Club World Cup: 4[420]
  • Top Goalscorer in International competitions: 84[420]
  • Top Assists Provider in Barcelona history[420]
  • Top Assists Provider in El Clasico history: 13[420]
  • Most Hat-tricks in Barcelona history: 32[461]
  • Most La Liga Hat-tricks: 24[461]
  • Most Away goals scored in Barcelona history in La Liga; 120 goals[462][463]
  • Most Barcelona Player of the Year awards: 3 (2010, 2012, 2013)[464]
  • Most Major Titles won in Barcelona history: 25 (shared with Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta)[465]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Assists statistics began in 1990.

References

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Bibliography

External links