Lionel Andrés "Leo" Messi (born 24 June 1987) is an Argentine footballer who currently plays for FC Barcelona and the Argentina national team. Considered one of the best football players of his generation and frequently cited as the world's best contemporary player, Messi received several Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year nominations by the age of 21 and won both by the age of 22. His playing style and ability have drawn comparisons to Diego Maradona, who himself declared Messi his "successor".
Messi began playing football at a young age and his potential was quickly identified by Barcelona. He left Rosario-based Newell's Old Boys's youth team in 2000 and moved with his family to Europe, as Barcelona offered treatment for his growth hormone deficiency. Making his debut in the 2004-05 season, he broke his team record for the youngest footballer to score a league goal. Major honours soon followed as Barcelona won La Liga in Messi's debut season, and won a double of the league and Champions League in 2006. His breakthrough season was in the 2006-07 season; he became a first team regular, scoring a hat-trick in El Clásico and finishing with 14 goals in 26 league games. Perhaps his most successful season was the 2008-09 season, in which Messi scored 38 goals to play an integral part in a treble-winning campaign. In the following 2009-10 campaign, Messi scored 47 goals in all competitions, equalling Ronaldo's record total for Barcelona.
Messi was the top scorer of the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship with six goals, including two in the final game. Shortly thereafter, he became an established member of Argentina's senior international team. In 2006, he became the youngest Argentine to play in the FIFA World Cup and he won a runners-up medal at the Copa América tournament the following year. In 2008, in Beijing, he won his first international honour, an Olympic gold medal, with the Argentina Olympic team.
Messi was born on 24 June 1987 to the south of Rosario, in the province of Santa Fe, Argentina, to parents Jorge Horacio Messi (born 1958), a factory worker, and Celia María Cuccittini, a part-time cleaner. His paternal family originates from the Italian city of Ancona, where his ancestor, Angelo Messi, emigrated to Argentina in 1883. He has two older brothers named Rodrigo and Matías as well as a sister named Maria Sol. At the age of five, Messi started playing football for Grandoli, a local club coached by his father kyle. In 1995, Messi switched to Newell's Old Boys who were based in his home city Rosario. At the age of 11, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. Primera División club River Plate showed interest in Messi's progress, but did not have enough money to pay for treatment for his condition as it cost $900 a month. Carles Rexach, the sporting director of Barcelona, had been made aware of his talent as Messi had relatives in Lleida, Catalonia, and Messi and his father were able to arrange a trial. Barcelona signed him after watching him play, offering to pay for the medical bills if he was willing to move to Spain. His family moved to Europe and he started in the club's youth teams. He was two cousins also involved in football; Maxi and Emanuel Biancucchi.
Messi made his official debut for the first team in a friendly match against Porto on 16 November 2003 (at 16 years and 145 days). Less than a year later, Frank Rijkaard let him make his league debut against Espanyol on 16 October 2004 (at 17 years and 114 days), becoming the third-youngest player ever to play for Barcelona and youngest club player who played in La Liga (a record broken by team mate Bojan Krkić in September 2007). When he scored his first senior goal for the club against Albacete on 1 May 2005, Messi was 17 years, 10 months and 7 days old, becoming the youngest ever to ever score in a La Liga game for Barcelona until 2007 when Bojan Krkić broke this record, scoring from a Messi assist. Messi said about his ex-coach Rijkaard: "I'll never forget the fact that he launched my career, that he had confidence in me while i was only sixteen or seventeen".
On 16 September, for the second time in three months, Barcelona announced an update to Messi's contract; this time it was improved to pay him as a first team member and extended until June 2014. Messi obtained Spanish citizenship on 26 September 2005 and was finally able to make his debut the season's Spanish First Division. Messi's first home outing in the Champions League came on 27 September against Italian club Udinese. Fans at Barcelona's stadium, the Camp Nou, gave Messi a standing ovation upon his substitution, as his composure on the ball and passing combinations with Ronaldinho had paids dividends for Barcelona.
Messi netted six goals in 17 league appearances, and scored one Champions League goal in six. His season ended prematurely on 7 March 2006, however, when he suffered a muscle tear in his right thigh during the second leg of the second round Champions League tie against Chelsea. Rijkaard's Barcelona ended the season as champions of Spain and Europe.
In the 2006-07 season, Messi established himself as a regular first team player, scoring 14 times in 26 matches. On 12 November, in the game against Real Zaragoza, Messi suffered a broken metatarsal, ruling him out for three months. Messi recuperated from his injury in Argentina and his return to action came against Racing Santander on 11 February, where he came on as a second-half substitute. On 11 March, El Clásico saw Messi in top form, scoring a hat-trick to earn 10-man Barcelona a 3-3 draw, equalising three times, with the final equaliser coming in injury time. In doing so he became the first player since Iván Zamorano (for Real Madrid in the 1994-95 season) to score a hat-trick in El Clásico. Messi is also the youngest player ever to have scored in this fixture. Towards the end of the season he began finding the net more often; 11 of his 14 league goals of the season came from the last 13 games.
Messi is also proved the "new Maradona" tag was not all hype, by nearly replicating Maradona's most famous goals in the space of the single season. On 18 April 2007, he scored two goals during a Copa del Rey semi-final against Getafe, one of which was very similar to Maradona's famous goal against England at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, known as the Goal of the Century. The world's sport press drew comparisons with Maradona, and the Spanish press labelled Messi as "Messidona". He ran about the same distance, 62 metres (203 ft), 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. In a press conference after the game, Messi's team-mate Deco said: "It was the best goal I have ever seen in my life". Against Espanyol Messi also scored a goal which was remarkably similar to Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal against England in the World Cup quarter-finals. Messi launched himself at the ball and connected with his hand to guide the ball past the goalkeeper Carlos Kameni. Despite protests by Espanyol players and replays showing it was clear handball, the goal stood.
During the 2007-08 season, Messi scored five goals in a week leading Barcelona to the top four in La Liga. On 19 September he scored once as Barcelona defeated Lyon 3-0 at home in a Champions League match. He scored two goals against Sevilla on 22 September and then on 26 September, Messi scored another two goals in a 4-1 victory over Real Zaragoza. On 27 February, Messi played in his 100th official match for Barcelona against Valencia.
Messi was nominated for a FIFPro World XI Player Award under the category of Forward. A poll conducted in the online edition of the Spanish newspaper Marca had him as the best player in the world with 77 percent of the vote. Columnists from Barcelona-based newpapers El Mundo Deportivo and Sport stated that the Ballon d'Or should be given to Messi, a view supported by Franz Beckenbauer.
La Liga: 2004–05, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2012–13.
Copa del Rey: 2008–09, 2011–12; Runner-up 2010–11.