Lionel Messi has won eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues with FC Barcelona but his only major international honour in the Argentinean gear is the 2008 Olympic gold.
Leo joined Barcelona as a 13-year-old in 2000 and shone in the youth ranks before the then coach Frank Rijkaard gave him his senior debut at the age of 16 in a friendly against Porto in 2003. But his debut for the senior Argentinean side came in a friendly against Hungary in August 2005.
Soon after making his La Liga debut in October 2004 he became a force to be reckoned with in the world of football. Messi always made his presence felt on the field as he was either engaged in scoring goals or assisting them. He played a key role for Barca as they claimed six trophies in the calendar year of 2009 including the Champions League, La Liga, the King’s Cup and the Club World Cup.
In comparison, his international career did not match up to his club career. The amount of success he had at FC Barcelona was in direct contrast to the failures he had to deal with while playing for his national side.
He failed to have an impact in the 2006 World Cup where Argentina were knocked out in the quarter-finals by hosts Germany after a penalty shootout. He was part of the national side coached by Diego Maradona at the 2010 World Cup that was beaten 4-0 by Germany in the quarters where he failed to score and struggled to find his best form at the tournament in South Africa.
The only success that came his way while wearing the blue-white stripes was when he led Argentina to win the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Messi won his first Ballon d’Or in the year 2010 along with another La Liga win for Barca. His dedication, hardwork and particular skillset inspired Barcelona to a 3-1 win against Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final, scoring a goal and creating another.
While playing for the Catalans, Messi has gotten into a habit of smashing records. Even though Barcelona failed to retain either La Liga or the Champions League, the Maradona successor completed 2012 with an extraordinary total of 91 goals in all competitions, a record for a calendar year.
Leo turned in a series of scintillating performances in 2014-15 as Barca romped to a treble of Champions League, La Liga and King’s Cup titles. He won his eighth La Liga title and fourth Spanish Cup with Barcelona in 2015-16.
On the national front he captained Argentina to the final of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where they lost 1-0 to Germany. Messi, scored four goals at the finals and won the Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player. He played his second Copa America final for Argentina in Chile in 2015, losing the final on penalties to the host nation. But the hunger and search for a tournament with his national side ended up being a fruitless and a heart-wrenching endeavor as Argentina lost to Chile second year in a row at the Copa America Finals 2016.
Lionel Messi thereafter announced his retirement from international duty after he missed his strike in a penalty shootout as Argentina lost a fourth major final in nine years. One has to ponder whether an era has ended with a penalty that Lionel Messi sent high over a New Jersey crossbar?
First Published | 27 June 2016 6:50 PM