Lionel Messi: 10 Years With Barcelona


Ten years ago on October 16, 2004, a young man substituted into a competitive match for Barcelona for the first time.  Unless you were a hardcore Barcelona fan, chances are you had never heard of him before.  But in the past 10 years, one may argue that few other people have had a greater impact on the world than La Pulga, Lionel Messi.

No he is not a politician, a lawmaker, or at worst a terrorist.  He is a soccer player.  He has not changed the world through any means other than what he can do with a soccer ball at his feet.

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The popularity of soccer in the United States is usually measured every four years when it comes time for the World Cup.  Depending on how many American’s watch the World Cup, we can then decide how popular the sport is.  But I believe that in the future we will look back on the popularity of the sport and put it into two categories: Pre-Messi and Post-Messi.

In the Pre-Messi era, before October 2004, there were 10 MLS teams. In the past 10 years of the Post-Messi era, the league has doubled in size with more teams on their way.

In 2002, the last World Cup of the Pre-Messi era, 70 million American’s tuned in to the tournament.   In the most recent World Cup in 2014 nearly 900 million accumulated Americans viewers watched the 64 matches.  And the 2014 final, which included Lionel Messi, broke the record in the US for most viewers at over 26 million.

In the Pre-Messi  era, to watch a European soccer match you would have to search for hours to find anything on TV.  Now in the Post-Messi era, every English Premier League match can be watched on TV or online, and a handful of Champions League, La Liga and Bundesliga matches can be found on TV as well.  Not to mention all the international matches and tournaments that come up in-between the World Cup years.

No, Lionel Messi is not the sole reason for the successful growth of Soccer in America, but he certainly is one of the largest contributing factors.

I can barely make it one week without seeing a kid on the streets or in a park wearing a Messi jersey.  My own mother, who I don’t think has watched a single professional soccer match in her life, knows who Lionel Messi is.  He has transcended the soccer world and become a world-wide cultural icon.

But if you look at how he plays, two things come to mind.  First, he absolutely is the best player in the world and deserves to have all the recognition he is receiving. And second, and more interestingly, he seems just as youthful, innocent and wide-eyed as he did when he first walked on the pitch for Barcelona 10 years ago.

Each time you watch Messi step out onto a soccer field, the result it is the same.  It appears that he leaves the rest of the world behind him and is solely focused on the game.  He appears to be a kid with no worries in the world; all that matters is what is happening on the field in that moment.

Maybe you will have to watch a video of him when he was a kid to understand exactly what I am saying.

His world spins at the speed of the soccer ball.

Never have I seen a player that can do what Messi does.  I don’t know if a player like him as ever lived.  People always want to compare Messi to his fellow countrymen, Diego Maradona, but they are two completely different players.

While on the pitch, the world revolved around Maradona.  He was the Holy of holies, the most important man on the field.  He wanted all the attention and all the fame.  If you got in Maradona’s way, he would be the first one to jump up and take you down.

Messi is nothing like Diego Maradona.  In fact, other than his ability to score goals, they are complete opposites.  When Messi plays it seems that he ignores everyone else on the pitch.  He is just a kid out there playing on his own time and on his own terms.   Messi is like a child who while playing alone in his back yard imagines himself scoring goals that could only exist in a child’s dreams.  But Messi is able to turn his boyhood imagination into reality.

In his 10 years with Barcelona, Messi has scored an incredible 361 goals (as well as 42 with Argentina). He has won La Liga six times, the Champions Leagues three times, and the Ballon d’Or as the world player of the year a record four times.

And to think that all this began because his team in Argentina, Newell’s Old Boys, was unable to pay for his medical treatment for his growth-hormone deficiency.  Messi would have eventually made his way to the biggest stage in the world, he had too much talent not to, but there is no doubt that his upbringing in Barcelona’s La Masia contributed to his success.

Messi’s goal has never been to become famous.  His fame is a result of his soccer brilliance.  In the Pre-Messi era, if you were to ask an American to name the best soccer player in the world, I don’t know what mixed bag or responses you would get, but I assume half the country wouldn’t be able to name a single one.  In the Post-Messi era if you are to ask an American the same question, the nearly unanimous response would be Lionel Messi.

But Messi has done much more than change the soccer world in the United States.  His impact on the world stretches far beyond the US and Europe.  In just 10 years, Messi has changed the world.

It has been 14 years since his first contract was signed with Barcelona, a contract that was written on a napkin.  But doesn’t that tell you all you need to know about Messi.  He neverwas and still is yet to become too big for himself.

He may be the biggest name in the soccer world, but not because he made himself that way, simply because he never stopped being the same kid he was back in Rosario, Argentina.