The name, Lionel Messi, may not ring a bell with many sports fans in the United States, but the world over he is considered the greatest soccer player in the world today and arguably one of the best that has ever played the game, talked about in the same breath as Pele, Maradona, Cruyff.
Messi, who is from Argentina and is captain of the national team, plays club soccer in Spain for Barcelona, where he has been since he was 13 years old when he was signed to the club’s youth academy.
What makes Messi so special in the eyes of soccer fans is not only his goal scoring prowess, which is immense, but his ability to set up teammates.
The calendar year, 2012, Messi set a new record by scoring 91 goals for club and country, eclipsing the previous mark of 85 goals set in 1972 by Gerhard (Gerd) Muller, who played for Bayern Munich and West Germany. Muller, now 67 and still a coach at Bayern Munich, scored his goals in fewer matches than Messi, but the game was not as worldwide back in 1972, nor as competitive.
Messi is helped by the fact that Barcelona is one of the world’s best club teams and he is surrounded by such top class players as Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas, many of whom populate the Spanish national team that won the World Cup in 2010 and the European Cup in both 2008 and 2012.
Even though he is only 25 years old, Messi has three times been honored as World Football Player of the Year and is one of the finalists for the 2012 award. He made his La Liga debut with Barcelona in October 2004 when he was 17 years old. Nor have this year’s goal scoring accomplishments come out of the blue. His goal haul have increased every season – 38 goals in the 2008-09, 47 goals in 2009-2010, 53 goals in 2010-11 and 73 goals in 2011-2012.
Yet, Messi is not your prototypical soccer player. He stands only 5 feet 7 inches tall, the result of suffering from a growth hormone deficiency, with which he was diagnosed when he was 11 years old. His talents on the soccer field had come to the attention of Barcelona and after having a trial with the team in Argentina, he was offered a contract and Barcelona offered to pay Messi’s medical bills for the treatment of his growth hormone deficiency if was willing to move to Spain, which he did with his father, the Wikipedia website states.
Messi’s lack of height has never been a handicap. His quickness, ball control, dribbling and his ability for find open spaces make him a nightmare to defend. While he usually starts out the game on the right wing for Barcelona, he has the freedom to roam and will more often than not turn up in the congested middle of the field to link up with Barcelona’s midfielders and take off for goal.
Defenders will often find themselves tackling thin air as Messi goes by them and when he is fouled, he bounces back up right away, ready to take the free kick if it outside the penalty box and the penalty kick if the foul on him or any other Barcelona player occurs in the penalty area. Messi is deadly with his free kicks.
Henry Winter, football correspondent with the London Daily Telegraph, in a Dec. 4, 2012, story about Barcelona’s 5-1 win over Athletic Bilbao in which Messi scored two goals as he was closing in on Muller’s goal-scoring record, described Messi as a “dribbling zephyr” with his “relentless runs through the middle operated like a surgeon’s scalpel…”
“He is special because he makes children fall in love with the game and turns world-weary, seen-it-all adults into wide-eyed children again,” Winter wrote. “This weekend highlighted his irrepressible, illuminating brilliance.”
To see soccer played at its best, catch Messi and Barcelona on the Fox Soccer Channel (FSC), which carries the European Champions League games involving the top club teams in Europe. The second round matches are in late February and early March when Barcelona plays AC Milan.