Lionel Messi

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 29: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona controls the ball during the La Liga match between RCD Espanyol and FC Barcelona at Cornella-El Prat Stadium on March 29, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain.
Alex Caparros/Getty Images

If you're looking for the best soccer player in the world, there are few finer sights than Lionel Messi using a mixture of pace and trickery to beat multiple defenders from his position in the center of the Barcelona attack.

Pele and Maradona are considered by many to be the best players ever to have kicked a ball, but it is no exaggeration to say that Messi has now claimed a position alongside these players in soccer's pantheon of greats.

The Argentinean joined Barcelona at the age of 13, with the club paying for treatment on a growth hormone deficiency that threatened to stunt his progress. What a shrewd investment that now looks, with Messi already the club's record goalscorer.

Quick Facts:

  • Name: Lionel Andrés Messi
  • Nationality: Argentinean
  • Date and Place of Birth: June 24, 1987 in Rosario, Argentina
  • Position: Playmaker
  • Current Club: Barcelona (La Liga)
  • Previous Club: Newell's Old Boys (1995-2000)
  • International Career: 2005 to present

Move from Newell's:

Messi started playing for Argentinean club Newell's Old Boys at the age of eight after turning out for a few years with his local team. His father was a factory worker and his mother a cleaner, and they were unable to pay the money required to remedy his growth hormone deficiency. This was also the case with River Plate who were interested in signing the player.

Barcelona, then under the stewardship of long-time club servant Carles Rexach, pounced with the promise of paying the $800 a month required to pay the bills.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the player's destiny and the club's future were redefined.

Messi would excel in the youth and B teams before making his first team debut against Barca's city rivals Espanyol. His first goal would follow against Albacete at the age of 17 years, 10 months and seven days, making him the club's youngest ever Liga scorer.

Increasing Influence:

Messi's presence at Barcelona grew, so much so that the club decided they did not need to keep the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco in 2008.

La Pulga's (The Flea) goal against Getafe in the 2007 Copa del Rey had to be seen to be believed. He ran from the halfway line, beating every player who came across his path before rounding the goalkeeper. The goal conjured memories of Maradona's famous effort against England at the 1986 World Cup and only encouraged further comparisons between the pair.

Messi has won seven league titles with Barca, and in the 2008/09 campaign, after inheriting Ronaldinho's number 10 jersey, he scored 38 goals in all competition, dazzling in the irresistible frontline trio that also comprised Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry. With Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez forming a telepathic understanding with Messi, Barca won the Liga, Champions League, and Copa del Rey treble.

Messi would go on to better that 38-goal tally in the two following seasons, scoring 45 and 50 respectively as Barca won the championship, while also securing their third Champions League in six seasons. Messi followed up his goal against Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final with a fiercely struck shot against the same opponents in the 2011 showpiece.

The Argentinean, who won the World Player of the Year award five times, may lack the personality of Maradona, but he has no trouble expressing himself on the field, and Barca's decision to improve his wages and buy-out clause on more than one occasion reflect this. He is now Barcelona's record scorer and produced the astonishing haul of 73 goals in the 2011-12 season.

In 2013, Messi scored 91 times to set a new record for goals scored in a calendar year, surpassing Gerd Muller's total of 85 in 1972.

MSN

Messi helped Barcelona to a second treble in six years as Barca swept all before them under Luis Enrique in the 2014-15 season.

Barcelona's heavy investment in Neymar and Luis Suarez has reduced 'Messidependencia' - the notion that Barcelona had become too dependent on their Argentinian superstar.

Now Neymar and Suarez weigh in with regularity and the trio netted no fewer than 137 goals in 2015. The presence of the Brazilian and Uruguayan has actually reduced the number of goals that Messi has scored, with Suarez having taken over at the center of the attack. Messi's 2011-12 total of 73 goals in one season is unlikely to be repeated as long as Neymar and Suarez are performing in tandem alongside their team-mate — the goals are now shared out.

Argentina Career:

Messi's first appearance for the Albiceleste (White and Sky blue) came against Hungry on August 17, 2005, but he was sent-off within two minutes of coming on for elbowing an opponent.

He featured at the 2006 World Cup in Germany but coach Jose Pekerman was reluctant to hand him free rein and he started just one match.

Barcelona did not want Messi to play in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing but an agreement was reached and he duly helped his country win the gold medal.

There was a perception among some critics that Messi underperformed at the 2010 World Cup, as Argentina reached the quarter-finals. He did not score (doing everything but), but demonstrated his sublime talents against Nigeria and South Korea in the group stages. He may not have been at his very best, but the 2010 World Cup was by no means a write-off for Messi who often shone in his position behind the strikers.

Nearly Man

Messi performed better at the 2014 World Cup, where he guided Argentina to the final, before losing agonizingly to Germany in extra-time.

Finishing joint third top scorer alongside Neymar and Robin van Persie, Messi was awarded the Golden Ball for the outstanding player of the tournament, which triggered much debate given the performances of James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben and several of the Germany team. But Messi created more chances than any other player, with only Andrea Pirlo completing as many through-balls.

Messi scored just once in the 2015 Copa America, but helped his side through to the final only to suffer more heartbreak in the form of a penalty shoot-out defeat to hosts Chile.