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No.19: Lionel Andrés Messi

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Lionel Andrés Messi is an Argentine striker born on June 24,1987 in Rosario.

At the age of five, he started playing football for Grandoli, a club coached by his father. In 1995, Messi switched to Newell’s Old Boys. At the age of 11, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. River Plate showed interest in Messi’s progress, but did not have enough money to pay for the treatment of the illness that cost over £500 a month. Barcelona signed him after watching him play, offering to pay for the medical bills if he was willing to move to start a new life in Spain. His family moved with the young player to Europe and he starred in the club’s youth teams.

In the 2003/2004 season, when he was still only 16, Messi made his first team debut in a friendly with Porto that marked the opening of the new Dragao stadium. The following championship-winning season, Messi made his first appearance in an official match on October 16, 2004, in Barcelona’s derby win against Espanyol becoming the third-youngest player ever to play for FC Barcelona and youngest club player who played in La Liga (a record broken by Bojan in September 2007). When he scored his first senior goal for the club against Albacete Balompié on 1 May 2005, Messi was 17 years, 10 months and 7 days old, becoming the youngest to ever score in a La Liga game for FC Barcelona until 2007 when Bojan broke this record.

Messi obtained Spanish citizenship on September 25 and was finally able to make his debut in the season’s Spanish First Division. He had previously been unable to play because FC Barcelona had filled their quota of non-EU players.On September 27 against Italian club Udinese in UEFA Champions League he impressed with some great passing and a seemingly telepathic relationship with Ronaldinho that earned him a standing ovation from the Nou Camp.In December of that year, the Italian newspaper Tuttosport awarded him the Golden Boy 2005 title for the best under-21 player in Europe, ahead of Wayne Rooney, Lukas Podolski, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

In his first full match after two injuries in the next seasons,he shined in El Clásico scoring a hat-trick to earn 10-man Barcelona a 3-3 draw, equalising thrice and with the final goal coming in injury time. In doing so he became the first player since Iván Zamorano (for Real Madrid in the 1994-95 season) and the first Barcelona player since Romario(1993-94 season) to hit a hat-trick in the El Clásico. Messi is also the youngest player ever to have scored in this fixture. The game also marked the beginning of Messi’s best spell of form with Barça. He also began finding the net more often, 11 of his 14 league goals for the season coming from the last 13 games. Despite his spirited efforts, Barcelona felt marginally short in its defence of the La Liga title, Real Madrid winning on a better head-to-head record.

Messi and Maradona

Messi also proved the ‘new Maradona’ tag was not all hype, by near-replicating both of Maradona’s most famous goals in the space of the single season. On April 18, 2007, he scored two goals during a Copa del Rey semi-final against Getafe CF, one of which was very similar to Maradona’s famous goal against England at the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, known as the Goal of the Century. The world’s sports press exploded with Maradona comparisons, and the Spanish press labelled Messi as “Messidona”. He ran about the same distance (62 metres), beat the same number of players (six, including the goalkeeper), scored from a very similar position, and ran towards the corner flag just as Maradona did in Mexico 21 years before. Later on, in a crucial league match with Espanyol, Messi scored a goal that drew even more comparisons to Maradona’s Hand of God goal.

On February 27 Messi played in his 100th official match for FC Barcelona.

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In 2005 he was part of the team that won the Under-20 World Cup in Holland,where he was also the leading goalscorer and was voted best player in the tournament.

On 4 August 2005, José Pekerman called Messi up to the senior Argentine national team. He made his debut on 17 August 2005 against Hungary, but it was a forgettable occasion. He was substituted on during the 63rd minute, but was sent off after just 40 seconds. Messi then had his first international start on 3 September in Argentina’s 0-1 World Cup qualifier away loss against Paraguay playing the last eight minutes of the match. Ahead of the match he had said “This is a re-début. The first one was a bit short”

Messi was selected in the Argentina squad for 2006 World Cup in germany and Copa America 2007 in Venezuela.

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