Ten years ago to the day, Lionel Messi stepped off a plane in Barcelona as a scrawny 13-year-old blessed with extraordinary gifts but in need of a big break.
The club’s decision to take a chance on the kid from Rosario and pay for costly treatment for a growth hormone deficiency turned out to be one of the best decisions they or any other club have taken. According to Barcelona legend, his first contract was signed on a paper napkin after Carles Rexach, then Barca’s youth team coach, was persuaded here was a player he could not afford to let slip away.
A decade on and Messi is, in the eyes of almost everyone, the world’s best player and Barca fans should celebrate Sept. 17 like La Diada de Sant Jordi. Consider the achievements:
*Earned his senior debut at the age of 16 in a friendly against Porto in November 2003.
*Led Argentina to glory at the 2005 World Youth Championship in Netherlands, scoring two penalties in a 2-1 final victory over Nigeria.
*Made his debut for Argentina in a friendly against Hungary in August 2005, the same opponents compatriot Diego Maradona made his debut against as a 16-year-old. Messi though was sent off less than a minute after going on as a substitute, for elbowing a defender who had pulled his shirt.
*Led Argentina to the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and came second in the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year vote behind Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo.
*In May 2009 he helped Barcelona win the Champions League final, heading the second goal in a 2-0 victory over Manchester United that sealed his club’s third European Cup title after their triumphs in 1992 and 2006.
*Won the Ballon d’Or (European Footballer of the Year) trophy and was named FIFA World Player of the Year in December 2009.
A look at his list of honours is highly impressive for someone so young; Four La Liga titles, four Spanish Super Cups, two Champions League titles, one Spanish King’s Cup, one UEFA Super Cup and one FIFA Club World Cup.
The one title missing of course is the World Cup, but with the next edition to be in neighbouring Brazil there would be nowhere sweeter for Messi to lift the trophy. Provided he can still lift trophies with all the hoisting of silverware he is bound to do over the next few years.