BARCELONA, Spain, Aug 26 – Lionel Messi was the teenage prodigy who blossomed into Barcelona’s record scorer and is still operating at the highest level at 33.
After announcing he wants to leave the Catalan club, AFP Sport examines the career highlights of one of football’s all-time greats.
– Barca academy –
Messi, from Rosario in Argentina, was a diminutive 13-year-old and suffering from growth hormone deficiency when he joined the academy at Barcelona, who agreed to pay for his $1,000-a-month treatment.
Despite severe homesickness at the outset, Messi rose through the ranks and made his first-team debut aged 17 in 2004, becoming Barcelona’s youngest goal-scorer later that season.
– Olympic gold –
Messi helped Argentina to their second straight men’s football gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning all six of their games and conceding just two goals.
Messi, playing in a team that included Javier Mascherano and Angel di Maria, later described it as his most cherished title. But Barcelona may never have allowed him to play if not for the intervention of newly appointed coach Pep Guardiola, who won Olympic gold with Spain in 1992.
The Olympic title remain’s Messi’s biggest achievement with Argentina, despite being their all-time top-scorer with 70 goals.
– Ballon d’Or –
Messi eclipsed Cristiano Ronaldo, then newly arrived at Real Madrid, to be named the world’s best footballer by a record margin in 2009.
It capped a brilliant campaign where he inspired Barcelona to the Champions League trophy, scoring nine goals and sealing the 2-0 final victory over Manchester United with Barca’s second goal.
Guardiola’s Barcelona also won the Copa del Rey and La Liga, claiming the first treble in Spanish history. Messi picked up his sixth Ballon d’Or, another record, last December.
– Muller time –
Messi enjoyed a sensational 2011-12, setting a La Liga record of 50 goals in a season and scoring 73 in all competitions, breaking Gerd Muller’s European record of 67.
Among the highlights, Messi became the first player to plunder five goals in one Champions League game, in the 7-1 hammering of Bayer Leverkusen.
However, the season ended badly for Barca as the title-holders lost in the Champions League semi-finals to Chelsea, and were beaten to the La Liga title by Real Madrid.
– Goals, goals, goals –
Messi was just 24 when he broke Cesar Rodriguez’s 57-year-old club record of 232 goals, smashing a hat-trick past Granada in March 2012.
He has gone on to amass 634 for his club, including a record 444 in La Liga, and an unsurpassed 36 hat-tricks in the Spanish top flight.
– 700-up –
Another milestone fell when Messi scored his 700th goal for club and country — a cheeky Panenka penalty — in a 2-2 draw with Atletico Madrid in June.
However, highlights have been in short supply this season for Messi and Barcelona, who finished without a trophy for the first time since 2007.