One of the brightest stars FC Barcelona, a team with no shortage of world-class talent, is a young Argentinean player who has played with Barcelona's youth team since his early teens.
Aged 11, his diagnosis with growth hormone deficiency in Argentina coincided with the collapse of the Argentinean economy and neither the Messi family nor Club Atlético River Plate, which had expressed an interest in the player, could afford the treatment.
The saviour of Lionel – or Leo, as he his commonly called – came when Barcelona's sporting director saw him play for his local club, Newell's Old Boys. Carles Rexach put an offer on the table that his parents were simply unable to refuse – to pay his medical bills in exchange for his family was willing to move to Spain and play in the FC Barcelona youth team, an offer that must have seemed like divine intervention at the time. His performance soon saw him making regular appearances in the Barcelona B team and in 30 matches he scored 37 goals.
Leo Messi made his first appearance in the first team against local rivals RCD Espanyol in October 2004, while May 2005 saw his first goal for the main FC Barcelona team. His appearances in the first team remained sporadic, with Frank Rijkaard seemingly easing him into the first team, but he remained a popular player with the club's supporters and frequently displayed footballing magic on a par with Ronaldinho.
His appearances became more regular throughout the 2005-2006 season, but he received a setback in March after injuring his thigh in a Champions League match against Chelsea. Barcelona went on to win both the League and Champions League titles, with Messi playing no small part in the success of the team.
Finally at the beginning of the 2006-2007 season Messi was awarded his first team number. Until this point he had worn the number 30 shirt signifying his status as B team, but he was now promoted to 19. However he received another setback in November when he was once again laid off through injury – this time a broken metatarsal prevented him playing for three months.
His recovery saw his return in February, in time to play Real Madrid in the Classic. The match, played in March, saw a game fought hard on both sides and FC Barcelona were able to score a 3-3 equalizer in the last minute. Incredibly Leo Messi was responsible for all Barcelona's goals!
If he can keep injury free then the future for Lionel Messi remains bright. He constantly demonstrates a resolve to put the ball in the back of the net and his footballing skills, while perhaps not as flashy as Ronaldinho, show equal genius. While internationally he plays with Argentina he seems home in Barcelona and we can only hope that the club is able to prevent him from being lured away by some bigger, better offer. Only time will tell.