Barça were playing at the Olympic Stadium, Montjuïc, against Espanyol early in the 2004/05 season. Manager Frank Rijkaard was struggling with injuries and called on five Barça B players to cover the gaps, namely Rubén, Peña, Damià, Cristian and Messi. The latter was an attacking midfielder who on 14 December 2000, aged just 13, had signed his first contract with Barça on a serviette. Since then, he had flown up the ranks and by that 2004/05 season had won a regular place in the B team, coached by Pere Gratacós.

Messi was the only one of the quintet to get on the pitch that night. He replaced Deco, who had scored the only goal of the game, in the 82nd minute. The Argentinian showed no signs of stage fright. He played confidently and almost stole the ball from Espanyol keeper Kameni to score and also went on a dangerously penetrating solo run in the final seconds. It was written in the papers the next day that "Messi is with us because he's a class act and his dribbling is excellent". The boy had talent.

Early days

He ended up playing nine games that season, seven in the league, one on the UCL and one in the cup. At the Camp Nou on May 1, 2005, Messi became the youngest player ever to score for Barcelona in the league. That was against Albacete, when Messi was still just 17 years, 10 months and 7 days old, and was a splendid chip that thwarted visiting keeper Valbuena. That record has since been beaten by Bojan, but was just the start of it where this record breaker is concerned. His real breakthrough was in the Joan Gamper match against Juventus in the summer of 2005, and then there was his incredible goal in the Copa del Rey of 2006/07 against Getafe. But the best was yet to come.

Apotheosis under Guardiola

Until 2007/08, with Rijkaard on the bench, Messi had scored 42 goals in 110 matches and had already proved his worth, despite living under the shadow of greats like Ronaldinho and Deco. That changed when Pep Guardiola took charge of the team and converted the Argentinian into the leader of the team, giving him more of a free reign to demonstrate his true value, and in particular his amazing talent for scoring goals. He has scored 171 goals in 189 games with Guardiola as manager.

Records and more records

Since the 2008/09 season, Messi has broken all kinds of records at Barça. It's a never-ending list:

-Youngest player to score 100 goals in official matches: 22 years (16 January 2010).

-Youngest player to score 200 goals in official matches: 24 years (1 November 2011).

- Only player to win the Ballon d'Or, FIFA World Player, Pichichi and Golden Boot in the same season (2009/10).

-Youngest player to win the Ballon d'Or three times: 9 January 2012 when he won the third aged 24 years, 6 months and 17 days.

-Highest scorer in official matches in one season: 53 goals in 2010/11 (31 in La Liga, 12 in the Champions League, 7 in the Copa del Rey and 3 in the Spanish Super Cup). Tied with Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), who also got 53 goals in one season.

- Top Barça scorer in international competitions: 48 goals (43 in Champions League, one in European Supercup and 4 in Clubs World Cup).

As well as the 18 team titles he has won with Barça, Messi was FIFA World Player in 2009, top scorer in Spain and Europe in 2009/10 and winner of the Ballon d'Or in 2009, 2010 and 2011. There is no doubt that Barça fans are a privileged few to be able to enjoy Messi playing week in week out.

Indomitable spirit

Tito Vilanova has known Messi since he was 14, and once said that "Messi won't accept defeat because he is a winner and fights against injustices, because he wants to win. The more he gets kicked and the worse the referee's decisions are, the more he wants the ball and the better he plays". That may be one of the reasons why he is the greatest player in the world.

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