The great Lionel Messi recently scored his 100th European goal, a landmark which makes him sit among the true greats of the game.
This momentous achievement came when he curled home a free kick in the 63rd minute against Olympiacos at the iconic Camp Nou as Barcelona thrashed the Greek club 3-1. It took him 122 games to reach the landmark with 97 goals in the UEFA Champions league and three in the Super Cup.
He has become the most talked about sportsman and has received tributes from everywhere, with the Barcelona president congratulating the five-times Balloon d’Or winner, saying he has created an era.
Football was in his blood. When he was only four, he joined Grandoli, a local club. He joined Newell Old Boys at the age of six and started to show the signs of what he was to become. He also used to play with his brothers and cousins.
The sporting world is full of top-rated sportsmen who were nobody in their childhood, having no money or the basic necessities of life.
Being a sports lover, I have found the life of almost every world class sportsman heart trenching, be it MS Dhoni, Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, Glenn McGrath, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kumar Sangakkara or Luis Suarez.
Messi’s case is the same. He was the victim of the economic crisis which hit the middle-class families of Argentina in the 1990s. His father was struggling with work. Messi lost his mother at the age of 11. It was she who used to take him to the ground. Afterwards, whenever he scored a goal he looked up at the sky as if seeing his beloved mother smiling at his success.
As his family had relatives in Catalonia, they arranged a trial in 2000 and Messi mesmerised everyone with his skills. They immediately signed him for their youth team. He was just 14.
He made his Barcelona debut on October 16, 2004, coming just eight minutes before the end.
After seven and a half months, he scored his first goal in a La Liga match. Messi had arrived.
He signed a contract that was to remain in force till 2010. The contract was extended till 2014. And he is still playing for the club.
He is called a floating butterfly, a magician, an entertainer, a sportsman of all generations, or a man for all seasons.
He has the rare ability to produce sheer magic and can tear apart any defence line.
During the spell of Pep Guardiola from 2008-2012, Barcelona were an unstoppable force. They won La Liga thrice, and Champions League and Super Cup twice. Messi was at the top of his trade.
In El Clasico, one of the greatest sporting events, Messi is the top scorer with 25 goals and also has most assists. Who can forget his last El Clasico goal in the dying minutes?
In his illustrious career, he has netted 390 goals and 61 international goals in 122 matches. He has won Champions League four times, La Liga eight times and Super Cup three times. He also has won the prestigious Balloon d’Or five times and European Golden Shoe four times.
For more than a decade, people have been debating whether Messi is a greater footballer than Maradona.
In the world of football, a player’s stature is considered by his performances in the World Cup. As his performance was below par in the 2006 and the 2010 World Cups, Messi was criticised, but he silenced his critics by performing brilliantly in the 2014 World Cup. His country, however, did not win the title.
After the defeat in the Copa America final in 2016, he decided to retire, a decision he had to take back under immense pressure.
Though Messi has not won a World Cup or Copa America, he single-handedly took Argentina to the finals in both the tournaments and was the player of the tournament in the World Cup 2014.
Argentina have just qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Again Messi rose to the occasion by scoring a scintillating hat-trick in the must-win clash against Ecuador. We hope that in the coming World Cup he leads his country to the World Cup title.