Lionel Messi - Football's Atomic Flea

Lionel Messi, popularly referred to as Leo, was born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1987. The diminutive Argentine, nicknamed La Pugla Atomica (an Atomic Flea), has etched indelible records in football's history by winning the FIFA's World Player of the Year and the European Golden Shoe awards a record six times each.

Early Life

He is the third of four children of Jorge, a steel factory executive, and Celia, a magnet manufacturing workshop worker. He has Spanish and Italian ancestry. Leo exhibited a passion for football early, constantly playing with his older siblings and cousins.

He joined Grandoli, a local Rosario club, when he was four. Two years later, he transitioned to Newell's Old Boys, another local Rosario club. Leo got sickly at age 10, threatening his future football career. Doctors diagnosed a growth hormone deficiency in him. Unfortunately, neither Newell's Old Boys, which had promised to co-pay his treatment, nor River Plate could see his treatment through.

Fortunately, his relatives in Catalonia organized for the youngster to undergo a trial at Barcelona in 2000. Messi signed for the Catalan club in 2001, an act that the youngster and Charles Rexach, Barcelona's head scout at the time, did on a paper napkin.

He spent only a year in the club's youth academy before enrolling to the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF, Royal Spanish Football Federation in English). The recognition came with more liberty that allowed him to take part in all games.

Lionel Messi in action

Professional Career

Messi started his club career in 2003, his fourth year in Barcelona. His progress through the ranks was rapid. The youngster debuted for five youth teams during the campaign, a record for the club.

He made the first team debut while only 16 years, four months, and 23 days, coming on as a substitute in a friendly against Porto in 2003. He impressed and subsequently started training weekly with the first team. Messi signed his first professional contract in 2004, an 8-year contract that had a buyout clause of €30 million. The contract terms changed immediately after debuting for Barcelona B, raising the buyout clause to €80 million.

He was promoted to the first team in 2004, playing his first league game against Espanyol when he was 17 years, 3 months, and 22 days old, at the time, the youngest player representing Barcelona.

The years between 2005 and 2008 saw Leo set himself as Barcelona's dependable forward. The improvements came despite the overall performance of the club dipping. However, it did not take long for the club's fortunes to turn around. Barcelona won its first treble with Messi during the 2008/09 season. The same season Messi signed a new contract with the club that made him Barcelona's highest earner.

The following season, he bagged his first Ballon d'Or. The 2010/11 season was just as successful. Messi and Barcelona won the La Liga title, the fifth while Messi was with the Catalans, and another Champions League, the third since his arrival.

Messi with silly hair
The goal-scoring form Messi found in the 2010/11 season stuck with him in 2012, his record-breaking year at Barcelona. He scored five goals in a Champions League round of 16 fixture against Bayern Leverkusen, eventually tying José Altafini's top scorer record for the tournament of 14 goals set in the 1962/63 season. He also joined Gerd Müller, becoming the second player to earn the Champions League golden boot in four campaigns.

He won the second treble with the club during the 2014/15 season, becoming the league's all-time top scorer.

Overall, Messi's tenure at Barcelona is a lesson in endurance, multiple success, and impressive records. He earned the armband during the 2018/19 season, won the tenth La Liga title with the club, and his record sixth golden boot. The following season, he bagged his sixth Ballon d'Or.

He left Barcelona against his will in 2021 because of the clubs financial problems, joining PSG as a free agent, and signed a two-year contract with the possibility of extending for another year.

International Career

Messi has not quite replicated his club brilliance in the international assignments, dotted with disappointing outcomes. However, in 2021, he led Argentina to the Copa América title, winning the golden boot in the process.
Joe David was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria and writes more than good about football, preferably with a focus on African players and the success of African national teams on the football field.