Saturday, nearly 90,000 faithful Madristas left the Santiago Bernebeau in bitter disappointment after Real Madrid had suffered a 2-0 defeat to their fierce rivals, Barcelona. The incredible supporters of Real Madrid were silenced by a 5'7" striker from Argentina, who at the age of eleven was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency.
They were silenced by the best footballer on the planet, Lionel Messi.
From his humble beginnings as the son of a factory worker in Rosario, Argentina, Messi has ascended into football royalty, and surely now has cemented himself among the legends of the game. What is most impressive about Messi's rise to greatness, is how he has done it. Only 22 years old, Lionel Messi has provided us moments of inexplicable brilliance and class that will be remembered for decades to come.
In 2000, the sporting director of Barcelona, Charles Rexach, discovered Lionel Messi's talent while he was playing for his youth club, Newell's Old Boys, in Argentina. Messi had received previous attention from top Argentine club River Plate, but the club was unable to afford his medical bills for his growth hormone deficiency. Barcelona offered to cover his medical expenses, if he and his family were willing to move to Spain. The Messi family moved to Spain, and Lionel began training with the youth team.
Around the same time Cristiano Ronaldo was making his move to Manchester United, Lionel Messi made his first unofficial start for the senior club in a friendly against FC Porto at the age of 16. After a long year of training, Messi finally earned his first league start for L'equip blaugrana to becoming the third-youngest player to ever play for Barcelona. Despite playing very well when he was on the pitch, Messi was not a regular in the starting lineup. This is in part due to injuries he suffered in 2004 and 2006.
It was March 10th, 2007, when the legend of Lionel Messi took the grandest stage of all, El Clasico. The 19 year old Messi scored a hat trick to earn Barcelona a 3-3 draw. All of Messi's goals were equalizers, including a goal in injury time while Barcelona were reduced to ten men. Messi's form did not stop there, as he finished the season strong, scoring 11 of his 14 total league goals in the final 13 games of the season.
His 2007 season also provided two of the most memorable goals in Messi's young career. A handball goal against Espanyol drew infamous comparisons to Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal in the 1986 World Cup. His solo goal against Getafe brought the highest of acclaims with comparisons to Diego Maradona's "Goal of the Century." His Barcelona teammate Deco said this of the goal, "It was the best goal I have ever seen in my life." Messi's break-out season earned him second place for the FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Since then, Lionel Messi has quickly vaulted himself to the top of the football world. Finishing second in the FIFA World Player of the Year again, and then finally winning it following Barcelona’s Treble winning season, in which Messi scored 38 goals in all competition.
In the 2009 Champions League final, Lionel Messi was matched up with the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo. The hype was massive, and immortality awaited the winner of the match. Messi not only outplayed Ronaldo, but none of the Manchester United players had an answer for his blistering runs. Messi capped off his brilliant campaign with a goal in the 74th minute, a header no less, to clinch the Treble for Barcelona.
This season, Lionel Messi has not only met the high expectations set for him, but he surpassed them by miles. Messi has scored an incredible 40 goals, and barring an injury, will surpass Barcelona’s single season record of 47 goals, set by Ronaldo in the 1996-1997 season.
His memories of solo goals and amazing finishes will be remembered for decades to come. Messi became the first player ever for Barcelona to score back-to-back hat tricks in La Liga. His four goal performance against Arsenal in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals may have been his greatest game ever played.
With all of this greatness and the media the world over praising him for his greatness, Messi remains humble. You will not catch him throwing egotistical quotes for the media to pick at. You won't find him parading around with super models or Spanish aristocracy.
While some players' reputation are built by the fans and lucrative marketing deals with Nike, Lionel Messi's renown is based on his inspirational play.
Whatever the future holds for this bright Argentine star, what he has done in only four seasons as a regular starter will never be forgotten amongst the football fans of the world. His brilliance is unequalled, and his talent, unchallenged.
Lionel Messi is the undisputed King of Football, and at the age of only 22, I expect the legend of Messi to grow to unfathomable heights. He has already won the highest individual and club honors attainable. All that remains is international glory, and as Diego Maradona himself has said, “If Messi keeps this up, the Maradona and Pele, polemics will end.”
I, for one, agree with the Argentine coach.