Perhaps the greatest stories to tell are the ones that should have never happened in the first place. Lionel Messi’s story is no different. Born on June 24, 1987 in Rosario, Argentina, a young Messi was diagnosed with a hormone deficiency that restricted his growth. Treatment was very expensive, but fortunately for Messi, his talent would help pay for treatment. At 13, Spanish club Barcelona offered to not only give Messi a chance to play for the club but to also pay for his medical bills. His family soon moved to Spain.
The rest, as they say, is history…
There isn’t much that the (only) 24-year-old Argentino hasn’t already won on the soccer pitch. He’s been named Player of the Year in some fashion for every year since 2006, including the prestigious Ballon d’Or in 2009 and 2010 (he’s a finalist this year, and he’ll probably get it too). He is the best player on the best Club team in the world (they’ve won two of the last three Champions League titles), and Barça’s current run has put them in the conversation of best Club teams in the history of soccer.
There’s a lot to like off the field too: his humility is unmatched, and in 2010 he was named a Goodwill Ambassador by UNICEF for his work with the Fundación Leo Messi, an organization that promotes children’s rights globally.
Looking back on 2011’s most memorable sports moments, one of the first things that comes to mind, is Messi’s goal against Manchester United in the Champions League Final (it helped lead Barcelona to a 3-1 win). As the ball bounced in the net, I knew that I was watching history in the making.
Some things are debatable, this is not, Leo Messi is the best soccer player alive today.
But where one debate ends, another one is sure to begin. So Messi might be the best player today, but where will he end up when it’s all said and done?
For all of his success on the club level, Messi has had very limited success on the international level. Yes, he has won an Olympic Gold Medal (2008) and a FIFA U-20 World Cup (2005) with Argentina, but he’s yet to win the trophies that really matter: the Copa América and the World Cup.
Those considered to be among the best footballers ever, Pelé, Maradona, Beckenbauer, and Zinedine Zidane have all won a World Cup for their respective countries (Johan Cruyff also belongs in this list, though his Dutch side never won a World Cup). Will Messi join these greats?
Regardless of what happens, there’s nothing like seeing greatness in action. ESPN’s Bill Simmons once said that Messi is “better at soccer than anyone else is at anything.” Leo Messi is still very young and, barring injury, he will continue to have many seasons like the one he’s had in 2011. And if that’s the case, the next six to eight years should be a treat for all sports fans.