Lionel Messi has, after a golden decade at the Camp Nou, deservedly become the focus of devoted admiration. As a Catalan who has been fortunate to travel the world in recent years, it has become increasingly obvious that the words ‘Barcelona’ and ‘Messi’ are rarely more than a couple of sentences apart, regardless of where in the planet you may be.
Not Antoni Gaudi, not Salvador Dali. The diminutive forward who joined the Blaugranas as a shy, yet ambitious 13-year-old is much better known than the city’s most legendary artists -- although, thinking about it, the way in which Lio manages to dominate the ball whichever way he pleases in definitely an art in itself.
Fortunately, Messi has brought endless joy to the millions of Cules within Catalunya and beyond. His humble, unassuming nature make him a player who is very easy to warm to, even if you put his footballing brilliance to one side. Being able to sit at the very top of world football and ignore all the noise surrounding the game itself, especially during times when social media allows everyone to follow his every move, is nothing short of admirable.
A hugely supportive family unit, together with the many values learnt during his time at La Masia have definitely helped Barca's No.10 keep his focus on playing the game of football despite the many distractions that come with celebrity. While Messi always had a privileged amount of talent, his unprecedented degree of success would have never been achieved without countless amounts of hours in training, sheer determination and the ability to listen to advice in order to improve further.
Fortunately, the quadruple Ballon d’Or winner has blessed Cules with a seemingly endless collection of moments to cherish, with a selection of his best brilliantly highlighted here.
From a personal point of view, the one memory of Messi which stands above the rest is his jaw-dropping goal against Real Madrid at an incredibly hostile Santiago Bernabeu in the Champions League semi-finals back in 2011.
Sure, scoring away from home against your historical arch-rivals is always a memorable point in a player’s career, but the incredible dribbling slalom that preceded Lio's astute shot away from Iker Casillas, leaving up to five Merengue defenders behind, has already secured its place in the football history books. Without Lio’s mind-blowing effort, the club’s 4th European Cup would simply not be standing proud at the Camp Nou museum. A moment one will never ever get tired of watching, reading or talking about.
Luckily, Messi continues to make history at Barca on a weekly basis a whole decade after bursting into the spotlight as a teenager alongside the likes of Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o. Making the transition from the youth system into professional football by learning from such skilled teammates certainly helped the Argentinean captain become the outstanding player he is today.
While it is still very early to think about the time when Messi will no longer be able to perform at his unusually high standards, that dreaded moment will inevitably come in the future. With that in mind, it is encouraging for Cules to witness how the No.10 is becoming much more involved in the development of younger players. His improved connection with Neymar has boosted to young Brazilian’s confidence to a whole new level for club and country, as his impressive poker of goals against Japan on Wednesday clearly showed.
Being able to not only co-exist, but collaborate with a quickly improving Neymar and current Golden Boot winner Luis Suarez will definitely be a challenge in coming weeks. Having said that, the Argentinean captain is now mature enough to understand that sharing the attacking line such talented forwards can only be beneficial from both an individual and collective point of view.
Barcelona will face Eibar on Saturday. While, understandably, the Camp Nou faithful would be delighted to see Lio on the pitch for the whole match in order to celebrate yet another landmark in his career, the game is in fact the perfect occasion for Luis Enrique to rest his star player.
The team will definitely need the best version of Messi in the upcoming clashes against Ajax in the Champions League and away at Real Madrid in La Liga in the next 10 days, so including upcoming youngsters such as Munir El Haddadi or Sandro Rodriguez in the starting eleven against newly-promoted Eibar at home makes perfect sense -- and even more so considering the huge amount of miles the Argentinean captain has travelled during the international break.
Gracias, Lio. Here’s to yet another golden decade of witnessing the best player in football history!
The Quote: “Put in the superlatives yourselves, I’m running out. It’s already been a while now that Messi has been outstanding. He’s more than decisive in every way. That he’s capable of doing everything that he does at his age is something impressive, that doesn’t make any sense. The best players are always in the thick of the action. Michael Jordan did it with the Bulls, Kobe Bryant does it with the Lakers and Leo does it at Barca. He is the best and we wouldn’t swap him for anyone. Messi is irreplaceable” -- Pep Guardiola, speaking during his time as Barca manager.