The Story Behind Lionel Messi's 5 Most Iconic Barcelona Celebrations
When Lionel Messi struck to win El Clasico for Barcelona in the final minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday, he ensured several things were true at once.
In the first instance, the fight for the title in La Liga will continue somewhat longer, with Real Madrid having missed the chance to extend their lead at the top. They are now level on points with Messi's Barcelona, although they still have a game in hand.
Secondly, the Argentina international managed to rack up his 500th club goal, further writing his name into the record books.
And finally, Messi ensured another iconic moment would be associated with him, thanks to his goal celebration: shirt out, name displayed, unnecessarily reminding the Real Madrid fans of just who he is.
The Barca No. 10 is fond of a celebration that sticks in the mind, and his Bernabeu sign-off is just the latest; here we identify five others and learn the stories behind them.
The most often seen and noticeable Messi celebration, Barca's star man will frequently point a finger on each hand towards the skies as he makes his way back to the centre-circle.
Regardless of whether he celebrates his goal with another gesture or symbolic act, Messi tends to repeat the skyward trait as well—and it's not one he's likely to give up any time soon.
Celia Olivera Cuccittini is the person to whom each and every one of those goals are dedicated: Messi's grandmother, who passed away in 1998. It was she who encouraged a young Leo to play, she who took him to matches and who thus played a huge role in shaping the path of perhaps the greatest-ever footballer.
Messi spoke of the celebration at a UNICEF convention, as reported by Marca (h/t Goal) in 2010, while Cristina Cubero of Mundo Deportivo (in Spanish) reported Messi's words on the same celebration the year previous:
I think about her a lot, I would have loved that she was here in the stadium, watching me, enjoying it. She gave us everything, myself and my cousins would fight to sleep in her house, she cared for all of us.
I can't say something in particular, it was everything about her, her character, how she treated us, how she loved us.
I dedicate my goals and my triumphs to her, I want her to be here but she left us before she could see me succeed. I would have brought her to Barcelona.
Perhaps every Barcelona fan—every football fan—who has admired Messi's footwork, spectacular play or one of his goals, should be thankful to the late Sra. Cuccittini.
As mentioned, Messi will at times bring out an alternative celebration before the sky-pointing commences, marking a particularly special strike or momentous occasion with its own image.
The Argentinian might be a world-famous footballer, but he's also quite the family man; he now has two sons, Thiago, born in 2012, and Mateo, born in 2015. The latter's birth coincided with a fixture against Atletico Madrid and, with Messi typically finding the scoresheet, a familiar celebration in the football world to signify a newborn baby was seen—thumb-sucking.
Per Ed Malyon of the Mirror, Messi hadn't trained for two weeks prior to the game and began the match on the bench.
His second-half appearance helped Barca overturn a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon, with manager Luis Enrique stating "Messi was decisive, as he always is!"
Of course, that early-season result aided Barcelona's title quest as they ran out La Liga winners by a single point last term, with Messi netting 26 times in total. But perhaps that single strike at Atleti, coming when it did, meant just a little more to the No. 10.
Call Me, Maybe?
Everybody loves a good theory in the footballing world to try to make something out of nothing—and there were plenty floating around after Messi decimated the Celta Vigo defence recently.
The unstoppable talisman scored a brace, set up two more and helped Barca to a 5-0 victory in March, keeping up the pressure on Real Madrid in the process.
After his first—a tremendous solo goal that left several defenders tackling thin air and gave the goalkeeper no chance with the shot—Messi celebrated with his team-mates and then pointed to the stands, made a "phone call" gesture with his hand to his ear and had something of a serious look about him.
What did it mean? Who was it aimed at? And why did Sergio Ramos soon have to declare he did it first?
Most of the social media suggestions declared it was towards the board, perhaps to speed up contract talks—but soon afterwards it was revealed to be aimed the way of his nephew instead.
Per Sport, Gerard Romero told the Moguts pel Barca show: "Leo Messi dedicated the goal to his nephew who spent the afternoon calling him. He rang him all afternoon, which was very annoying. That was reiterated by Messi in the celebration."
There are variations of this particular celebration, quite a few now given the trio in question share so many goals between them: 90 in La Liga alone last term and 64 in league play so far this year.
But there's no question that since the MSN attacking triumvirate has become a phenomenon, images of them celebrating together have become incredible iconic.
The first notable image of them celebrating a goal together came at the Camp Nou in 2015, with Barca beating Atletico Madrid. Messi hit the third and the troika ran off in tandem, celebrating a hard-fought three points, leading to pictures from all angles and distances of the above scene.
Barca Magazine (h/t the club's official website) spoke to a Reuters photographer who captured the moment perhaps better than anyone else, Albert Gea.
While much of the talk centred on the technical areas of Gea's work inside the Camp Nou, more than one aspect of his work at that moment mirrors the on-pitch traits the forward trident tend to show:
Neymar, after Messi scored, started celebrating and linked arms with Suárez and Messi and ran towards the grandstand, more or less in a direct line to where I was positioned. I started taking rapid fire photos, about nine a second, and then I switched to a wide lens.
I was lucky because I instinctively changed the camera before anyone else did. I moved to a shorter lens and that meant the three players were perfectly framed in the picture. Other photographers got some good pictures too but didn’t catch the scene quite as completely as I could. The key was my lens and my position next to the pitch.
Rapid-fire shooting (of a different sort to the forwards, admittedly), instinct, position and perfect timing. Messi would approve.
Messi isn't always happy at finding the back of the net, however. There are times when, for whatever reason, the professional anger boils too closely to the surface to let any elation shine through—even in what would usually be euphoric moments.
Like a last-minute winner, for example.
As recently as February, Messi was again pivotal in Barca taking three points, scoring twice in a 2-1 win over lowly Leganes, with his second coming from the penalty spot in injury time to keep Barca on Real's coat-tails and avoid embarrassment against one of La Liga's smaller sides.
It wasn't followed by joyous scenes, though, as Messi instead merely returned to the centre of the pitch—and the jeers that came before the cheers in the crowd may have had something to do with it.
The Leganes game came directly after the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League, a defeat that came complete with accusations of Messi not performing well from some sections of the media as well as from Barcelona supporters, perhaps quick to forget all he has accomplished.
AS ran a feature on Messi's "worst performance in a Barcelona shirt," ESPN FC suggested similar and highlighted him losing the ball before one of PSG's goals, rating him four out of 10, and Goal reported former France coach Raymond Domenech's scathing comments in L'Equipe.
"The image that remains from the first leg is Presnel Kimpembe getting the better of Messi through power," Domenech is quoted as saying. "Messi does not have the energy he had when he was 20 years old. It is not easy to see that gradually he is losing his gifts. He is more calculated now. He has lost that spontaneity and strength in his dribbling."
Days later, Messi had won the game for Barca against Leganes, and then-Argentina boss Edgardo Bauza was in no doubt that the No. 10 was fuming over those combined viewpoints on him having lost his edge.
Speaking on Joga Bonito (h/t Goal), Bauza said Messi had "reacted to the criticism" with his non-celebration.
If a match-winner from the penalty spot showed Messi didn't appreciate some of the words, perhaps his Clasico performance was aimed rather more specifically at those who agreed with Domenech.
Losing his gifts? Perhaps the former France boss was in the crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday, and Messi had to remind him of just who he was talking about.