Lionel Messi: Aging Perfectly as a Prolific Striker
History was made in Rosario, South America. It heralded arguably the greatest of all time to kick the football.
Background and Early Career
Lionel Messi was born on June 24, 1987 in Argentina. At the early age of five, he had started playing football for Grandoli, a club that was owned by his father. Apparently, football already ran in the genes. He moved on to Newell’s Old Boys, six years later but tragedy struck as he was diagnosed of a growth deficiency disease. With his footballing career hanging in the balance, he was snapped up by the then Barcelona President, Carles Rexach, albeit interest from Brazilian outfit, River Plate who couldn’t bear the financial strains of his health challenge.
The risk to bringing in such a raw talent did appear to pay off as Lionel Messi’s rise through the ranks from the Barcelona C team to the B team and then the first team was simply meteoritic. He was such a talented young player with blistering pace on the ball, and with his height, he could nimbly dance his way past defenders maintaining very stable feet. This rarity was the brain behind his monstrous goal tallies in the B team that saw him average at least a goal per game.
Lionel Messi made his senior team debut at the nascent age of 16 in a friendly against Mourinho’s Porto that marked the opening of the new Do Dragao stadium in the 2003/2004 season. It wasn’t long before he was called up once again this time in a La Liga game under quite fortuitous circumstances that saw many first team players out injured. It was a 1-0 win against their noisy Catalan neighbours, RCD Espanyol at the Olympic stadium becoming the third youngest player to play for the Blagurana side.
Apparently, the first team as at 2004 had thinned out in quality as they were plagued with major injuries to key players though the likes of Puyol and Eto’o were available. This gave room for the reserve to strut their stuff and possibly vie for a starting berth as they were called upon on a regular with Messi profiting immensely from it.
By this time, he showed great promise and gave fine flashes of brilliance each time he was on the pitch with terrifying runs that seemed to run defenders ragged. His first senior goal finally came against Alabacete Balompié. It was a fine lob past the goalkeeper off a Ronaldinho sweet pass at the stroke of fulltime; that should have been his second because his earlier effort that found the back of the net was ruled out for offside.
Rising Amidst Setbacks
Back in his teenage years, he was fraught with many injuries; how he improved on his fitness level is one many young players would greatly admire. In fact, the latter of his breakthrough season in 2005 was blighted with injuries though he managed to still get as many as 25 games under his belt with six goals across board.
That very same season saw him post such a brilliant performance against Juventus in a Joan Gamper Trophy match and a stunning display in their 3-0 away win over reigning Premier League Champions, Chelsea at the Bridge, it was now then popular consensus that the Spanish giants had a priceless gem in their hands.
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It must be said that he has had such a torrid time in national team colors. His ingenuity hasn’t really paid off for the El Celeste who hasn’t won any major international honors since Messi became a powerhouse in football. A final loss in 2014 World Cup at Brazil and other back-to-back Copa America final losses to Chile in 2015 and 2016 has been the closest the South American nation has come. This is one grey area in his illustrious career that has caused him to be pelted with many criticisms. However, it is worthy of note that he guided his country to Olympic glory at Beijing in 2008.
True Legendary at Its Peak
You would think that him being surrounded with top-notch players held the key to his consistent churn out of superb goals and eagle-eyed passes, but, with the departure of Ronaldinho in 2008, the Argentine star proved his mettle again as he scored crucial goals that won Barcelona the Champions League and Copa del Rey titles.
Messi did make history again as his goal landed the Guardiola-led side their first Club World Cup completing a massive treble that season before another came seven years later which was hauled by his record-high 56 goals across all competitions. His great goal tallies each season always did match his assists record, as he got truckloads of them.
Despite his speed tapering off greatly just recently, the six-time Ballon d’or winner has made up for this inevitable deficiency with fantastic hold-up plays pulling defenders out of positions that give his teammates enough room to inflict damage to opposition sides. The one-team player has definitely gotten flacks for sticking out with the Spanish club and not exploring other terrains like his counterpart, Cristiano Ronaldo who has played in four different leagues. Yet, Lionel Messi’s unparalleled consistency for a decade and a half has made sure such reservations hold no water for the great striker who is nearing the twilight of his career.
Nwachukwu Joseph is an undergraduate of Medicine and Surgery in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He’s an avid reader and sports enthusiast.