Lionel Messi is, undoubtedly, one of the all time greats. Many believe him to be the greatest player of his generation, which always sparks an interesting comparison with a certain Portuguese superstar. Messi, at just 27, has more or less won it all at club level, and he has collated a stunning number of individual accolades in this time too. He has remained at Barcelona for his career, being the all important cog in the machine which saw them become one of the best teams of all time. Messi has steered the Catalan giants to six La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey titles, three Champions League titles plus several other trophies. The Argentine is the first player to win four FIFA Player of the Year/Ballon d’Or awards, and is in the running again this year to take home the prestigious award. The forward became the Barcelona’s all-time top scorer in all official club competitions at just 24, and is now the all-time leading scorer in both La Liga and the Champions League.
These breathtaking accolades are only a part of what makes Lionel Messi one of the all time greats, as he is also one of the most intriguing players to watch. He may not possess the incredible leopard-like athleticism that Cristiano Ronaldo has, but he more than makes up for this with his highly intelligent, creative and incisive play. He has a fantastic ability to read the game, which allows him to make the right play whether it be taking on defences himself, or picking them a part with a clever through-ball. Messi stands at just 5’6", which gives him a low centre of gravity that gives him the ability to keep hold of the ball and dribble at great speeds. In addition, his intelligence and creativity enable him to play in various positions and in different systems.
Off the pitch, Messi keeps himself to himself and is seen to be a positive role model. He will consistently be in the headlines, but this will be for his sensational play as opposed to reckless or scandalous behaviour. This means that not too much is known about this extraordinary talent, so here are 15 interesting facts about the record smashing Argentine.
15 He shares his birthplace with Che Guevera
Messi was born on the 24th of June, 1987 in Rosario, Argentina. This city in central Argentina is located 300 km northwest of Buenos Aires, and is famous around the world for being the birthplace of Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevera. It is now also famous around the world for being the birthplace of Lionel Messi, and you are just as likely to see someone wearing a Barcelona shirt with his name on the back as you are to see someone wearing the hugely popular shirts with Che Guevera’s face on the front.
14 He has known his partner, and mother to this child, since he was 5 years old
When he was just five years old, Messi met Antonella Roccuzzo, a family friend who would turn out to be much more than that. Despite Messi moving to Spain, the two kept in contact and struck up a relationship in 2009. Their son, Thiago Messi, was born in 2012, and is already showing signs that he will continue his father’s legacy. Antonella is, unsurprisingly, a model, but the couple try to avoid too much media attention.
13 He is a philanthropist
Part of the reason for Messi’s popularity around the world is not because of what he does on the football pitch, but what he does off of it. He has used his name and wealth to help those less fortunate to him. Most noticeably, he started the Leo Messi Foundation in 2007, an organization which gives children opportunities for the best education and medical care. In addition, Messi is also the Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.
12 He was asked to play for the Spanish national team
Messi holds passports for both Spain and his native Argentina, and turned down an opportunity to play with the Spanish national team because he sees himself as Argentinian, despite spending many of his formative years in Spain. Messi does not have the best reputation with the Argentinean national team, as many fans label him as a Spaniard, but he has impressed for his country and particularly in the 2014 World Cup, where he took home the Golden Ball (somewhat controversially). Spain have managed without Messi in their ranks, but you certainly can’t blame them for asking.
11 He has a tattoo of his son’s name and handprints on his calf
Messi may not strike you as the type of person to be tattooed, but he decided that he wanted to celebrate the birth of his son, Thiago, by getting his name and hand prints tattooed on his left calf. He has now added to this with wings and a heart, but the ink is often hidden from view due to the long socks that are worn for matches. Messi has stated before that the birth of his son made him the "happiest man in the world".
10 His first contract was written on a paper napkin
Barcelona coach Carles Rexach was so impressed with young Messi, that he did not want to waste any time signing up the Argentine, and so drew up a contract on the first thing that he could find – a paper napkin. The most important napkin to ever exist, this would prove to be an excellent decision by Rexach and change the world of football forever. That sounds like a legal contract Lionel Hutz would draw up.
9 He was sent off 47 seconds into his international debut
A moment of great pride for any footballer, pulling on your country’s shirt and representing the entire nation, Lionel Messi’s international debut turned out to be one of the worst of all time. In 2005, a teenage Messi came on as a substitute against Hungary, but just 47 seconds later he would be walking off the field after being sent off. Messi saw a straight red after he seemed to elbow Vilmos Vanczak, and Messi was reportedly later found crying in the changing room.
8 Aged 11, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency
Messi’s amazing rise to become one of the all time greats is against the odds, as when he was 11 he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency which stopped him from growing at a normal rate. His parents struggled to afford the payments for treatment, but after impressing in a trial for Barcelona, the team offered to pay for his treatment in Spain. Messi moved from Argentina to Spain with his father to join the youth academy. The treatment took three years, and although it did work, Messi remains one of the smaller players around the world at 5'6".
7 His son was signed to Newell’s Old Boys’ supporters Club at 72 hours old
Before he could even support his own head, Messi’s son Thiago was signed to a supporter’s club contract by Messi’s first club, Newell’s Old Boys’ supporter’s cub. An agreement was reached between Thiago’s grandfather, Jorge, and the club just days after the infant was born. Officials from the club travelled to Europe with documentation, along with a replica kit with the newborn’s name and his father’s iconic number 10 on the back. Thiago has already been seen showcasing the family talent, kicking a ball on an Italian beach at just 20 months old.
6 He has scored the most goals in a calendar year (86 in 2012)
2012 was quite the year for Lionel Messi, who found the back of the net an incredible 86 times. This gave him the most goals scored in a calendar year, which was previously held by Gerd Muller with 85 in 1972. Messi, 25 at the time, scored a staggering 56 La Liga goals, three Copa del Rey goals, 13 in the Champions League and two in the Spanish Super Cup. He added nine more for Argentina, giving him 86 goals for the year in 66 games.
5 He was the first player to win three European Golden Boot awards
As mentioned in the introduction, Messi is the only player to win four FIFA Player of the Year/Ballon d’Or awards (the two merged in 2010), but this is not his only remarkable individual accolade record. He is also the first player to win three European Golden Boot awards, after picking up the golden shoe for the third time in 2013. Messi scored an impressive 46 times in La Liga for the 2012-13 season, and before this he netted 50 times in the 2011/2012 campaign and 34 in 2009-10. Ronaldo joined him in the club with his third boot after last season.
4 A solid gold cast of his left foot was made and valued at $5.25 million
Messi has won many golden boot awards in his career, and he has also had one created from a cast of his own left foot. The solid gold cast weighs 25 kg and is 10 inches tall, and the detailed piece shows every feature of his treasured left foot. It was created by Tokyo jeweler Ginza Tanaka to celebrate the Argentinian's fourth Ballon d’Or, and was created to raise funds for the victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
3 He scored against every other team in La Liga consecutively
Some players have a team or two that they always seem to score against, but this is not the case for Messi, as he has shown that he can score against them all. In the 2012-13 season, he scored in 21 consecutive games, becoming the first player in Spanish football history to score against every other La Liga team consecutively. This was done convincingly too, bagging 33 goals on his way to this remarkable record. No team is safe when playing the likes of Messi.
2 He has a buyout clause of €250 million
As this list demonstrates, Messi is more than a little bit talented. This makes him, inevitably, wanted by just about every single team in the world. To try and pry him from Barcelona’s hands, a team would have to come up with €250 million to meet his buyout clause. This is clearly a statement of intent from Barca, who do not want the likes of Manchester City, Real Madrid and other teams with deep pockets to come knocking. Messi has played with Barcelona a long time, and even with rumors swirling that his days with Barca are numbered, it is hard to imagine him playing in different colours.
1 At just 24 he became Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer
In 2012, a 24 year old Messi became the all-time leading scorer for Barcelona in all club competitions. He achieved this astonishing feat in impressive fashion, as he bagged himself a hat-trick in a 5-3 win over Granada. When you consider the history and success of Barcelona, this makes you realise just how prolific and talented Messi really is. He achieved this in just under 8 seasons, where the previous record was held by Cesar Rodriguez who had scored 232 goals (this took him 13 seasons and the record stood for 57 years). Messi is now out of sight in terms of goals scored, and by the time he is finished it seems unlikely that anyone will ever topple his grand total.