29 years ago, the sport of soccer got the greatest gift it could ever imagine. A young Lionel Andres Messi was born in Rosario, Argentina and, almost instantly, a legend was born.
I began watching Messi during the 2005 U-20 World Cup in Canada. I was just nine years old ,and though I had been playing soccer since I was five, I had just recently started watching games on TV.
By the following year in the 2006 World Cup, he was an 18-year-old fighting for minutes in one of the most star-filled squads Argentina has ever had. I vividly remember his first World Cup goal. The final nail in the coffin in a 6-0 rout of Serbia and Montenegro. After that, he began seeing consistent minutes in big games, even starting in the 2007 Copa America.
By 2007, Messi was emerging as a superstar and one of the World’s best. I would often go outside in my backyard and practice his almost trademark chipped finishes followed by the World famous celebration. I wanted to be just like Messi, and why wouldn’t I? Best player in both Argentina and Barcelona at such a young age. Before his 20th birthday, he had already scored a hat-trick against Real Madrid, scored a replica of Maradona’s goal against England in 1986, and had scored the most beautiful chipped goal against Mexico in the 2007 Copa America.
By the time I was in high school, Messi began reaching different levels that the World simply had not seen. His 2010-2011 season was arguably the best one of his career. That moppy-headed 23-year-old was torturing the best defenders in the World, and there I was every weekend (and even weekdays), at home watching on as my favorite player’s legacy grew more and more.
A shaky 2013-2014 season prevented him from playing consistent matches and never really let him reach his highest potential. Nonetheless, like all the greats, Messi came back, and he came back BIG time. It appeared that many people had jumped off the Messi bandwagon by the end of 2014. Somehow, they thought that Cristiano Ronaldo was the best player in the world for scoring penalties and tap-ins against low-end teams. As the calendar turned into the new year, Messi came out firing on all cylinders. Despite his scoring struggles in the first half of the season, he had practically caught up to Cristiano Ronaldo and the “MSN” trio began clicking.
By the end of May, Xavi had lifted all three trophies, making Barcelona the only team in history to win the treble not once but twice. Not only was Barcelona back to being the best team in the World, Messi was undisputedly back to being the best in the World.
You see, as a true fan, it doesn’t matter if the team wins or loses, it’s about the sensation you get when you watch them play. The high blood pressure that those close games give you, the hairs you yank out when Messi misses a penalty (could just be me), and the tears of joy and admiration when you’re able to see your favorite player come out with a new magic trick week in and week out.
It’s amazing once you find that one player that just stands out for you. In my case, it just so happened to be the Greatest Of All Time, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s just about finding that player that you can somehow relate to, even though you’ll most likely never meet him or her. A player that you can progressively follow during their entire career. To celebrate every goal and trophy with them and loathe every defeat or failure with them.
No words in the English dictionary can perfectly sum up the impact that Lionel Andres Messi has had in my life. A true hero and icon not just in my eyes, but also, to fans all over the World. He’s truly changed the game of soccer. The 5x Balon D’Or winner, 4x Champions League winner, 8x La Liga winner, scoring leader in La Liga history, maximum goal scorer in Argentina history. To the GOAT himself, Happy 29th Birthday, Leo Messi.