Celebrating 15 years of Lionel Messi - Chapter 1: The magician appears (2004-2008)

Andy West 12:01 16/10/2019
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Lionel Messi's debut against Espanyol

We’re celebrating 15 years since Lionel Messi made his official debut for Barcelona by chronicling his career so far through five chapters. Here’s is chapter one, all chapters can be read here:

Magician Appears (2004-08)

Evolution Under Pep (2009-11)

Statistical Phenom (2012)

Stocking Trophies (2013-16)

Identity Change (2017-)

Thursday 16 October 2004: Barcelona were locked in a closely-fought local derby at fierce rivals Espanyol, holding a 1-0 lead thanks to an early goal from Portuguese ace Deco.

With time running out, manager Frank Rijkaard opted to protect his lead by adding fresh legs into his forward line. The tiring Deco was taken off, and replaced by a promising teenager from the club’s youth ranks: Lionel Messi.

And so it began.

Except it had all really begun much earlier, with a truly remarkable story which unfolded in Messi’s hometown of Rosario, Argentina.

Young Lionel was always a fanatical footballer, spending every spare minute playing in the streets or at the park with his two older brothers and, later on, as part of the youth ranks of local professional side Newell’s Old Boys.

He was very good…but very small. And at the age of 10, he was diagnosed with a hormone deficiency which prevented normal growth. Expensive medical treatment was available, and initially the cost was covered by his father’s social security payments.

But then the government funding ran out, and his family could not afford to pay for the treatment. Neither could (or, perhaps, would) Newell’s. So Lionel travelled to Buenos Aires and trialled with the country’s biggest club, River Plate, who liked what they saw…but they wouldn’t take the risk of paying for the drugs.

Before it had even begun, Messi’s career was on the line: without finding the funds from somewhere, he would not finish the course of hormone treatment; without the treatment, he would not grow; without physical growth, he would not be able to physically compete with his peers. His progress as a highly promising young footballer would be curtailed, probably irreparably, and he would have to settle for whatever life in Rosario might provide.

Messi, though, was not one to settle for second-best. Even as a little boy, he was fiercely competitive to the point of psychosis, and he would not lightly surrender his dreams of becoming an elite footballer.

His family backed him, enlisted the support of an agent (Josep Maria Minguella, who had previously played a role in Diego Maradona’s move across the Atlantic to Barcelona), and secured a two-week trial with the Catalan club. If Lionel impressed sufficiently, Minguella assured the family, a contract would be forthcoming.

Messi, then 13 years old, certainly did impress during that trial, even if one of his new teammates – an attacking midfielder named Francesc Fabregas – joked that the timid Argentine was so quiet he must have been mute.

Signing Messi, however good he looked, was not an easy decision for Barca, greatly complicated by the fact that it entailed not just bringing a talented player onto the books but also moving over his entire family from Argentina, giving them an apartment and finding a job for the father.

After much deliberation, sporting director Charly Rexach took the gamble – ignoring the noisy protestations of several club directors, who were reluctant to make such a commitment to a 13 year-old – and, in February 2001, the family moved to Barcelona.

Messi quickly proved the faith placed in his talents by the club and his family was well-founded as he accelerated through the youth ranks – at one point advancing through five different levels in one season.

No other player had ever achieved such a rapid progression, and first team manager Rijkaard could not help but notice. He gave Messi a debut, aged 16, in a friendly fixture against Porto (managed by Jose Mourinho) in November 2003. Messi’s slender frame briefly prevented him from making further inroads into senior football, but after a few training sessions several experienced players – including the king of Camp Nou, Ronaldinho – pleaded with their manager to give the tiny Argentine a chance.

That league debut at Espanyol was followed by a handful more outings as Barca moved towards the league title, and Messi bagged his first goal towards the end of the campaign, against Albacete in May 2005, when Ronaldinho teed him up by providing a perfect pass and Messi did the rest by lobbing the advancing goalkeeper. In a moment that has become iconic, Ronaldinho then celebrated by lifting the young scorer high onto his shoulders, and the Camp Nou crowd roared in appreciation of a special goal.

BeFunky-collage - 2019-09-24T190344.846

Those lucky fans present that night could never have known just how special Messi would become, but further clues soon emerged.

A few weeks later, in the summer of 2005, Messi inspired Argentina to the World Youth Championship title, finishing the event in the Netherlands as player of the tournament and leading scorer after netting brilliant goals in the quarter and semi-finals against Spain and Brazil, along with a title-clinching pair of penalties in the final victory over Nigeria.

Back with his club after a short break, Messi expunged any ideas of sending him out on loan to gain experience by producing a show-stopping performance against Juventus in a pre-season friendly. The Italian team, prompted by their wily coach Fabio Capello, immediately offered to buy him, but Barca reacted with a firm ’no’: Messi was going nowhere, except into Rijkaard’s first team and into the boardroom to sign a new contract.

Messi duly became a regular starter, and before the end of the 2005/6 season he burst into the consciousness of the wider footballing public with an astonishing display against Chelsea in the Champions League, running rings around opposing full-back Asier Del Horno until the defender’s only option was hacking his tormentor to the ground, earning himself an early dismissal.

Despite this apparently unstoppable progress, Messi also had to overcome some significant disappointments. Firstly, in August 2005, he was sent off less than a minute into his international debut, harshly dismissed for using his arm to repel the attentions of Hungary defender Vilmos Vanczak.

A few months later, the domestic season ended in glory for Barcelona as Rijkaard led his team to a Champions League final victory over Arsenal, but it was a bittersweet occasion for Messi as he watched from the sidelines, ruled out through injury.

Then, in the summer of 2006, the first of many World Cup heartaches ensued, with Messi controversially left on the bench as Argentina suffered a penalty shoot-out elimination in the quarter-final against hosts Germany.

Those early setbacks served to toughen Messi up, forcefully reminding him that professional football was anything but easy. Niggling injuries also regularly struck him down, with his still-developing body struggling to adapt to the gruelling demands of weekly competition.

Nevertheless, his star continued to rise, with the precocious teen lining up on the right of Barca’s attack to form a deadly attacking trio with Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o.

As if they were needed, two moments towards the end of the 2006/7 campaign further confirmed Messi’s peerless potential. Against Getafe in a cup tie at the Camp Nou, he produced a ’Maradona moment’ by reenacting his compatriot’s World Cup goal against England with eerie exactness, receiving the ball on the halfway line and dancing past two defenders, racing goalwards to leave two more opponents flailing in his wake, and then rounding the goalkeeper to tap home.

Even more significantly, 19 year-old Messi also made his first major impact upon the most famous footballing fixture of them all: El Clasico. His hat-trick against Real Madrid on 10 March 2007, including a ferociously struck last-gasp equaliser, showed that Messi was ready to excel in any occasion, on any stage.

He had well and truly arrived, and his time was now.

Know more about Sport360 Application

Recommended

Most popular

Barcelona 4-0 Sevilla: Ernesto Valverde has night to remember, Lionel Messi is in motion

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

A quartet of fine individual goals, including Lionel Messi’s 2019/20 opener, saw ruthless La Liga champions Barcelona roar into the international break with an ominous 4-0 victory against Sevilla, despite finishing with nine men.

Momentum gained via the midweek, come-from-behind victory against Inter Milan in the Champions League was built upon at Camp Nou on Sunday. Not even the 87th-minute dismissal of debutant Ronald Araujo for a pull on substitute Javier Hernandez, then subsequent red card for a protesting Ousmane Dembele, could truly sour the night.

A stupendous few days for Uruguay hit man Luis Suarez continued with a sublime 27th-minute bicycle kick to open the scoring against Julen Lopetegui’s sixth-placed visitors.

The rampaging runs of Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal – selected in place of Spain anchor man Sergio Busquets – were rewarded when he slid home a quick-fire strike from Brazil conductor Arthur’s penetrative pass, before France winger Dembele – in for countryman Antoine Griezmann – skilfully checked back and slotted into the bottom corner to make it 3-0 with 10 minutes left of the opening period.

The Catalans then kept their visitors at arm’s length, prior to Argentine icon Messi netting a textbook 78th-minute free-kick to move onto 37 goals in 38 games versus the visitors. This result placed Barca into second spot, while Sevilla – who will point to more missed chances from new striker Luuk de Jong – have now lost three of their last four top-flight fixtures.

Here are the talking points:

VALVERDE’S MASTERPLAN

Barca head coach Ernesto Valverde is still not likely to win a popularity contest in Catalonia anytime soon.

Sunday’s orchestration, however, displayed both bravery and bravura in ample amounts. That a sharp Sevilla were so convincingly downed should have guaranteed acclaim rather than opprobrium, for one evening at least.

Commitment to Barca’s sacrosanct 4-3-3 formation was probably behind the bold call to bench €120 million France striker Antoine Griezmann, at the expense of flying compatriot Dembele. A pursuit of added dynamism caused the juncture point of Busquets being dropped in favour of Vidal.

Both additions scored and were among Barca’s better performers. Dembele, in particular, would have relished a first La Liga goal since January.

A balanced, yet physical, midfield also aided a third clean sheet in 10 2019/20 matches.

Even Pique’s late booking ensured he will be suspended for October 19’s trip to Eibar, rather than risk missing this month’s opening El Clasico against leaders Real Madrid. This will make up for some of the late damage inflicted by Araujo and Dembele’s dismissals.

A double-header against Inter and Sevilla looked daunting in the wake of defeat at Granada. Impressive wins herald a warm winter for Barca.

MESSI IS GETTING IN MOTION

Another notable aspect of this Barca victory was how it was earned with Messi on the periphery.

Of course, the term ‘periphery’ becomes redefined when the game’s greatest player is involved. He was not directly involved in any of the opening three goals, yet he still ended the match with the most; touches (94), shots (six), dribbles (10) and passes (66).

This is effectively pre-season for the 31-year-old after the summer’s disruptive calf problem. He pulled the strings in the background as Dembele, Arthur and Suarez – with a third world-class goal in two appearances – shone brightest in the first half.

An air of anticipation then grew after the break. It was sated in some style when Messi curled in a wonderful free-kick to kick off his 2019/20 scoring.

This was, then, a show of growing strength from the Argentine and his team-mates.

SEVILLA COME UP SHORT… AGAIN

Sevilla came to Camp Nou in the mood to play.

They even edged the attempts count by 16-15 over their exalted opponent. The telling statistic, however, came from the fact Barca registered a superior eight attempts on target to the visitors’ four.

Goalless De Jong was, again, the defining figure. A header that bounced over came moments before Suarez’s staggering opener, while he hit the post soon after the restart when excellently positioned.

Their earlier defeat to Real Madrid painted a similar picture of punishment following profligacy.

The sales of Pablo Sarabia and Wissam Ben Yedder continue to sting.

That’s also nine goals conceded by Lopetegui during two trips to Camp Nou within a year. At least the sack won’t instantly follow this time for the ex-Los Blancos supremo.

Most popular

Spectacular Luis Suarez was key to nine-man Barcelona success over Sevilla

Press Association Sport 08:53 07/10/2019
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Luis Suarez scored a spectacular overhead kick to inspire nine-man Barcelona to a 4-0 LaLiga victory over Sevilla at the Nou Camp.

Suarez opened the scoring in acrobatic fashion in the 27th minute and goals from Arturo Vidal, Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi – his first of the season from a trademark free-kick – sealed a comfortable victory.

The win was Barca’s fourth in a row in all competitions since a shock 2-0 loss at Granada on September 21 and lifts Ernesto Valverde’s side to second place in LaLiga, two points behind leaders Real Madrid.

However, the win was marred by the late dismissals of Dembele and Ronald Araujo, the former receiving a second yellow card for dissent after last man Araujo had been sent off for hauling down Javier Hernandez.

Sevilla began the game brightly and were left to rue a number of missed chances, with striker Luuk De Jong the main culprit.

De Jong saw his first-time shot superbly saved at his near post by Marc-Andre Ter Stegen after 11 minutes but should have broken the deadlock seven minutes later when he fired wide from six yards with the goal at his mercy.

Messi then curled a free-kick over the crossbar before De Jong squandered another good chance, heading a cross from Lucas Ocampos into the ground and over the bar from close range.

Moments later Suarez made the visitors pay the price for their profligacy, the Uruguay international connecting perfectly with an overhead kick to dispatch Nelson Semedo’s cross into the bottom corner.

Vidal doubled the lead five minutes later when he slid in to convert a pin-point pass from Arthur as Sevilla players appealed in vain for offside and Dembele soon made it 3-0 with a delightful right-footed finish from 12 yards out.

Sevilla’s miserable evening in front of goal continued as Nolito headed a cross from Jesus Navas tamely at Ter Stegen before half-time and the interval did nothing to change matters.

Five minutes into the second half, De Jong dispossessed Arthur on the edge of the penalty area but could only hit the post with a right-footed shot and it was no surprise when the 29-year-old was substituted with 25 minutes remaining.

After two previous attempts Messi finally found his range 12 minutes from time and curled a superb free-kick beyond Tomas Vaclik to open his account for the season.

That should have been the signal for the game to peter out but Araujo brought down fellow substitute Hernandez on the edge of the area as he attempted to run through on goal and was sent off.

Dembele, who had been booked early in the second half, was quick to remonstrate with the referee but appeared to overstep the mark and was shown a second yellow card.

Most popular

Related Tags