Lionel Messi was born into the world on June 24, 1987 in Rosario, Sante Fe Province (Argentina). Football came very naturally to Lionel and he began playing for his local team coached by his father, Grandoli, at the tender age of 5. In 1995, at just 8 years of age, Messi moved up the career ladder fast and joined Newell's Old Boys. However, it was not all a fairytale for Lionel and at 11 years of age, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency, which would cast doubt over his entire career in the game. River Plate, Argentina's then most famous club, were interested in capturing Messi's signature, but could not afford the $800 per month treatment Lionel would require to treat his problem. Already on their radar, FC Barcelona intervened and offered Lionel the treatment if he was prepared to move overseas to Spain. Messi's family agreed to this and the beginning of his rise to stardom was quietly being etched.
Lionel Messi made an immediate impact at Barcelona playing in the youth teams, frequently the game's outstanding player. He soon forced his way into the Barcelona B team, notching a hugely impressive 37 goals in 30 games, a tally which was unheard of for an attacking midfielder.
In October 2004, Lionel was given his big opportunity in the FC Barcelona first team against Espanyol. Messi was the third ever youngest player to play for Barcelona. In May 2005, at the age of 17 years, 10 months and 7 days, Lionel scored his first ever senior goal against Albacete, making him Barcelona's youngest ever La Liga scorer.
Often referred to as an Argentinian-Spanish player, this crossover was brought into sharp focus when in 2004, Lionel was offered the chance to play for the Spanish national U20 team. He declined the offer given his Argentinian heritage and was given the opportunity to play for Argentina's U20 team against Paraguay in June 2004.
His international career did not take shape however until June 2005, during the U20 Football World Youth Championship in the Netherlands. Lionel Messi was a surprise substitute at the beginning of the tournament, being much younger than most of the other players on the team. However, he was given his opportunity, and since then, he never looked back. Messi was instrumental in guiding the Argentinian team to glory in the tournament, scoring six goals to earn himself both the Golden Boot award and the Golden Ball award (as the tournament's best player). His mazy, mesmerising runs had left the world in awe at such an outstanding young talent.
Following the display, Messi was hailed as Diego Maradona's true successor, even by the latter himself several months later. On June 27, 2005, to warn off other clubs, Barcelona offered Lionel Messi a contract extension which would contain a buyout clause of 150 Million Euros (30 Million more than the talismanic Ronaldinho), underlining how much the player meant to the club.
Messi's big international break came on August 4, 2005 when Argentina's then boss, Jose Pekerman, offered him the senior cap he had craved against Hungary. Messi lasted just 40 seconds in the match, being sent off for an elbow on Vilmos Vanczak. Messi left the pitch emotionally, a decision which was heavily criticised by many eminent figures, such as Maradona himself. Messi got another opportunity to make what he famously described as his "re-debut" in the country's next match against Paraguay.
The 2005-2006 season was delayed in a first team capacity of Messi until on September 25, 2005, he was awarded Spanish citizenship. This enabled Messi to play due to Barcelona's non-EU quota already being filled. Messi made his Champions League debut in Porto and played his first home Champions League match against Udinese on September 27, 2005. His dazzling skills and chemistry with Ronaldinho earned him a standing ovation, in front of a huge 70,000 plus home faithful. Later in the year, Messi was awarded the Golden Boy title by Italian newspaper Tuttosport as the best U21 player, ahead of prodigies such as Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lukas Podolski.
During the season, Messi scored 6 goals in 17 La Liga matches and 1 goal in 6 Champions League matches. However, Messi stood out more for his all-round contribution to the team, typified in his scintillating performances away against Real Madrid and Chelsea in La Liga and the Champions League respectively. Lionel's season ended on a sour note, when on March 7, 2006, he tore a muscle in his thigh to end his season prematurely. The club went on to win both the Champions League and La Liga, which earned all members of the team tremendous accolades.
Messi had recovered from his injury just prior to World Cup 2006, which was held in Germany. He was selected for Argentina to go to the tournament, however was started on the substitutes bench from the outset to ease the pressure on him. He was given his opportunity in the 74th minute against Serbia and Montenegro, making a noteworthy entrance by assisting a Hernan Crespo goal and scoring one himself. Messi became the youngest player ever to represent Argentina at a World Cup, the youngest scorer in the tournament and the sixth youngest ever World Cup scorer (Pele was the youngest).
Messi's tournament was rather quiet from then onwards. He was given a chance to play as a forward against Holland, but failed to make an impact alongside Carlos Tevez. He was also brought on against Mexico in the knockout stage of the tournament, but once again did not make his presence felt. He was left on the bench during the entire game against Germany in the following match, where his country were knocked out on a penalty shoot out.
In the 2006-2007 season, Messi has continued to justify his prodigious tag. He was one of Barcelona's best players in the first half of the season, scoring a crucial Champions League goals in the 89th minute against Werder Bremen in Germany, effectively keeping the club's Champions League status intact. Messi is currently nursing a broken metatarsal and is expected to be out until March 2007.