12 years of Messi magic

12 years af­ter his Barca de­but we ask again: is he the great­est ever?

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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

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