HOW HAS THE EXCEPTIONALLY TALENTED MESSI EVOLVED TO BECOME A BARCELONA LEGEND?

Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest player of all time. The Argentinian forward is one of the most skilful and talented footballers the game has ever witnessed. He has played for Barcelona throughout his career. He is the highest goal scorer for Barcelona and Argentina. Fans refer to him as “The Messiah”, a wordplay combing the words ‘Messi’ and ‘Messiah’ to portray his god-like prowess and skills on the pitch.  Let’s have a look at the journey of Messi and how he has transformed his game throughout the years to reach the top.

LA MASIA (2001-2005)

At the age of 13, Messi was offered a contract on a paper napkin by Barcelona’s first team director ‘Rexach’ after a trial with the club. Subsequently, he moved to Catalonia with his family. He was an integral part of “Baby Dream Team”, Barcelona’s greatest-ever youth side. He played as a left-winger or an attacking midfielder in that team. He is the first La Masia graduate to win the Ballon d’Or.

ROAD TO BECOMING A STARTING XI PLAYER (2004-2008)

Frank Rijkaard gave Messi his competitive debut against Espanyol in October 2004. At the age of 17, he was then the youngest player to play for Barcelona in an official competition.

He was played on the right-wing away from his usual position on the left because that position was occupied by Ronaldinho. His primary role was to dribble past players and provide the ball to Ronaldinho or Samuel Eto’o. He used to stick to the right flank because Ronaldinho liked to drift into the middle from the left side.

While Barca was on a gradual decline after 2006, 19-year-old Messi started to establish himself as one of the best players in the world. After Ronaldinho’s lost form, Messi became Barça’s new star player. However, his game time was limited due to injuries which kept him out for long periods.

THE GOLDEN PERIOD UNDER PEP GUARDIOLA (2008-2012)

Pep Guardiola is the most successful manager in the history of FC Barcelona. He replaced Rijkaard to begin a new era of dominance for Barca by changing the playing style and personnel. 

Lionel Messi was given the Iconic No.10 shirt after the departure of Ronaldinho. He also signed a new contract which made him the highest-paid player at the club. To overcome his injury issues, the club implemented new training modules, specific nutrition intakes, lifestyle routines and assigned him a personal physiotherapist. As a result of this, Messi remained injured free which helped him to fulfil his true potential.

Pep used him as a False 9, positioned as a striker but dropping deep to link up with the midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta. Even when he played as a right-winger, he was given the freedom to cut inside and roam all over the pitch to pick up passes and make runs. He caused tactical problems for the opposition team as they had to mark him very carefully otherwise his runs could open up spaces for the midfielder to run into. Under Pep, Barca was the most dangerous and toughest team to play against as they could hammer even the strong teams on their day.

Messi had his most successful period, in terms of trophies won, goals scored, goals assisted and matches during Pep’s tenure.

During this spell, individually he won 4 Ballon d’Or, FIFA World Player of the Year, 2 European golden shoes, UEFA Player of the Year, FIFA Club World Cup Golden Ball and was La Liga’s Best Player for the 4 seasons.

As a team, Barca won 3 La Liga, 2 Copa del Rey, 3 Supercopa de España, 2 UEFA Champions League, 2 UEFA Super Cup and 2 FIFA Club World Cup. Barca won the first treble in the history of Spanish football and also became the first club to achieve the sextuple, winning six top-tier trophies in a single year during 2008-09.

Pep’s Barcelona is considered as one of the best teams ever in the history of the sport.

STRUGGLE AFTER THE GOLDEN PERIOD (2012-14)

After the departure of Pep Guardiola, Barcelona changed their manager twice between 2012 and 2014. They only won 2 trophies during this period. One of the primary reasons for this struggle was the injury and fitness issues of Messi. The team was criticised for being too dependent on Messi because the performances without him were substandard. Messi had about 40% contribution in the goals scored by Barca which proved the team’s reliance on him. Even at an under-performing team, he was producing numbers that were the highest around the world.

THE SPECIAL TRIO OF MSN (2014-2017)

The trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar was a fearless attacking trio that helped Barcelona get back to winning trophies. The pressure and responsibility on Messi were shared by Neymar and Suarez.

Messi again had the freedom to roam all over the pitch, make runs including picking up passes in tight spaces. He played as a false 9 or attacking midfielder on the pitch but his position on paper was as a right-winger. He used Suarez as a reference point to play the role he wanted to.

This role got the best out of him by using his playmaking trait as he provided 106 assists during this spell of MSN.

Barca won their second treble along with that Messi won his 5th Ballon d’Or during this period under the management of Luis Enrique.

THE LEADERSHIP OF LIONEL MESSI (2018-PRESENT)

After the departure of Xavi and Iniesta, Messi was now the most experienced player in the squad and had to be the leader of the team.

Messi’s game has now changed a lot as he dribbles less, runs less and presses less than before because of his age and fitness. He plays in a more central role now which helps him to drop deep to bring the ball up the field and provide the ball to the forwards.

Despite ageing, he is still an elite scoring playmaker who is putting up numbers that are highest around the world. Another thing that he has added to his game for the past few years is the long-range shots and free-kicks.

Messi conveyed his desire to leave the club in August 2020 after his fallout with the former club president “Josep Bartomeu”. But now he is set to sign a new contract and be a huge part of Barca’s rebuild and also help the youngsters like Fati, Pedri, Moriba and Puig.

International Career (2005-Present)

Lionel Messi is often compared to the Argentinian legend Diego Maradona. Messi is the all-time leading goal scorer and the most-capped player for his national team. He is the main leader and most valuable player of the Argentinian national team.

He plays as a right-winger, attacking midfielder and occasionally as a striker.

He was an integral part of the team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics. He carried the team to the final of the 2014 World Cup where they lost to Germany in extra time.

He has finished up as runner-up in Copa America 3 times in his career and eventually decided to retire from international football in 2016 after losing to Chile in the Copa America final on penalties. Although, later that year, Messi reversed his decision to retire and was included in the 2018 World Cup squad.

Finally, after all these years of struggle, Messi helped Argentina to win their first major international cup since 1993. It was an emotional moment for Messi to win his 1st major international tournament with Argentina.

Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest player of all time. The Argentinian forward is one of the most skilful and talented footballers the game has ever witnessed. He has played for Barcelona throughout his career. He is the highest goal scorer for Barcelona and Argentina. Fans refer to him as “The Messiah”, a wordplay combing the words ‘Messi’ and ‘Messiah’ to portray his god-like prowess and skills on the pitch.  Let’s have a look at the journey of Messi and how he has transformed his game throughout the years to reach the top.

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