12 years of Messi magic
12 years after his Barca debut we ask again: is he the greatest ever?
It was on October 16, 2004 that Frank Rijkaard introduced the world to a diminutive 17-year-old forward by the name of Lionel Messi.
Wearing the No. 30 shirt, the academy graduate was being trusted to make his Barcelona debut in a Catalan derby against Espanyol at the Montjuic.
Those 30,000 fans inside the stadium may not have known much about the floppy haired youngster, but the departing Deco had a knowing smile. He knew what was about to be unleashed on the world.
It is exactly 12 years since that moment and Messi has gone on to establish himself as one of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boots.
Of course this is an objective viewpoint but just one look at Messi’s statistics show just how dominant he has been for more than a decade.
He has amassed 517 goals, 219 assists and won 29 trophies for club and country. There have been eight La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns in that haul. Then there is his personal collection that includes five Ballon d’Or trophies. He is also the Barca’s leading goalscorer with 461 goals and Argentina’s with 56.
From a purely statistical viewpoint he is clearly one of the greatest. But it is not just his ability to score goals but rather to influence games.
Yes Xavi and Andres Iniesta may be viewed as Barca’s favourite sons, but Messi has been adopted as one of their own. He has been the heartbeat of the Catalan club, driving them to success and playing a brand of football that at times has been simply unstoppable.
He even achieved the nearimpossible at the Bernabeu in 2009 when Real Madrid fans simply had to stand up and applaud his brilliance.
Such is his standing within the Barcelona dressing room that Gerard Pique recently said: “The day that Messi leaves it will be like when your father dies and you realise you have to fly alone.”
Barcelona have soared in the Messi era and are unlikely to replicate their dominance once he hangs up his boots once and for all. Yet despite already playing for 12 years with Barcelona, it is unlikely that time will come soon.
Still just 29, there is little sign of Messi’s influence deteriorating or his appetite for goals and trophies diminishing.
Of course at some stage he will slow down but Messi is an intelligent footballer who will always be fleet of foot and quick of mind. Like Ryan Giggs managed in his latter years, Messi could move inside to influence games from a more central position.
There may be more injuries, but Messi is likely to continue for many years to come. Let’s just give thanks to Rijkaard for giving him that opportunity 12 years ago.
NOVEMBER 2, 2005 Messi against Panathinaikos in one of his early Champions League appearances
AUGUST 10, 2016 Messi is showing no signs of slowing down after 12 years in the first team