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Video Football Essays

Lionel’s father Jorge Messi, instructed with officially naming his son Leonel, changed his mind at the naming place to Lionel because he liked it. Though it has been rumoured that Jorge was influenced by Lionel Ritchie, this is not true, and the English spelling of the name, Lionel, was one he thought looked nice. The decision came as a surprise to Celia, Jorge’s wife.

You can go on a tour of Messi’s home town

If you find yourself with time to fill in Argentina, you can go on a 24 hour tour of Messi’s hometown in Rosario.

He looks EXACTLY like his parents

He supports Newell’s Old Boys Club

Football runs in the family

After working his way through the youth ranks at Newell’s Old Boys, Jorge Messi (Lionel’s father) – a talented youngster at the time – left to do his military service. Lionel’s brother Rodrigo was an attacker for Rosario in intercity matches before a car accident forced him to retire and his brother Matias was a defender in Newell’s lower ranks but eventually gave it up, age 27, having failed to make an impression. His cousin Emanuel currently plays for Vasco de Gama in Brazil.

The above poster is by Marija Markovic.

Messi’s nickname is The Flea

Crowds would gather in his home town to watch Messi play when he was seven years old

Don Apa was a trainer in Rosario and looked after boys football from ages 4-12. He also claimed to be the first football coach to put Messi on a pitch to play. From Guilleme Balague‘s Messi:

"When we went to a pitch, people would crowd to see him. When he got the ball he owned it. It was incredible, they couldn’t stop him. Against Amanecer he scored one of those goals like you see in the adverts. I remember it well: he dribbled past everybody, goalkeeper included. How did he play? Like he plays now, with freedom."

Messi used to do keepy-ups for ice cream


Messi first row, second from the left.

When he was nine years old, Newell’s directors would ask Messi to practise his keepy-ups on the pitch. According to Guilleme Balague’s Messi:

"For every 100 touches, sometimes he got an ice cream. [Once] he made 1,100 touches and they gave him 10 ice creams"

Messi’s idol was Pablo Aimar

Star of Championship Manager 01/02. Later, Aimar would leave a message for him at the Ballon d’Or ceremony:

Messi signed for Barcelona aged 13

The agreement to sign Messi was made on a napkin

Contrary to rumour and popular belief, Lionel Messi did NOT sign his first Barcelona contract on a napkin. It reads:

"In Barcelona on 14 December 2000 in the presence of Messrs Minguella and Horacio Carles Rexach, technical director of FCB, commits to the signing, regardless of some opinions to the contrary of Lionel Messi, as long as the figures previously agreed are respected."

The real story is that then Barcelona Technical Director Charly Rexach was pushed into making a decision by other coaching staff on that particular day. The Messis had been flown over from Argentina for two weeks, making Lionel miss school, and had waited months to hear back from the club. To stop the Messi family worrying about his future, Rexach signed the only bit of paper he could find in the restaurant he was in at the time.

Bringing a 13 year old over from as far away as Argentina was unheard of at the time and the costs involved for such a young player, specifically Messi’s medical treatments, housing, and getting Jorge (his father) employment were substantially more than clubs would usually pay.

The napkin now hangs in the Barcelona museum.

Messi’s team-mates in his Barcelona youth side included Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas

Pique would later sign for Manchester United and Fabregas for Chelsea, but Messi would stay and work his way through the Barca ranks.

In one season Messi was promoted five times

Having joined Barcelona U-14s, two years later Messi would progress to U-18 level, followed by a fast track to Barca C, Barca B and finally the Barcelona first team.

And he made his debut in a friendly vs Porto

Jose Mourinho‘s Porto.

Messi had a growth hormone deficiency

Lionel Messi was very small as a child. Nicknamed “the dwarf”, aged 11 he was 1.32 metres tall, caused by a growth hormone deficiency.

"When I was 11 years old they discovered that I had a growth hormone deficiency and I had to start a treatment to help me to grow. Every night I had to stick a needle into my legs, night after night after night, every day of the week, and this over a period of three years. I was so small, they said that when I went onto the pitch, or when I went to school, I was always the smallest of all. It was like this until I finished the treatment and I then started to grow properly"

The cost of Messi‘s injections is what first forced the Messis to move away from Argentina, and Barcelona offered to pay for them as part of his contract. Messi’s Argentinian club Newell’s would not pay for the $900 treatment and Jorge Messi could not support the family on his salary while paying for this.

The decision seems to have paid off.

Messi was the face of Pro Evo back when Pro Evo was cool

Although he was originally the face of Pro Evo, Lionel Messi became the cover star of the FIFA video game series in 2013.

Messi became close friends with Sergio Aguero over their mutual love of Playstation football games

This isn’t the only reason they became friends but while playing for Argentina’s Under 20s side, Messi and Aguero were made to share a room and would sneak out to play Playstation after hours.

Messi would regularly win tournaments between teammates in his early years and would spend his down-time playing Playstation. Judging that he was born in 1987, this would make his football video game playing years coincide with the time that Pro Evo ruled the world, thus it can be assumed that like many people born between 1985-1990, Pro Evo was his game of choice.

As a youngster in Barcelona, Pablo Zabaleta (then at Espanyol) would also come to Messi’s house to play Playstation with him. Nowadays Messi plays Neymar at FIFA 15 online, according to the Brazilian.

Messi won the Under-20 World Cup in 2005

In a team containing Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta, Lionel Messi was the star.

He scored two penalties in the final

And was voted player of the tournament and won the golden boot

Other players to have won the Golden Ball include Diego Maradona, Sergio Aguero, and Robert Prosinecki. The latest was Paul Pogba.

Messi would stay behind after hours as a 13 year old to train more

Because the majority of his family moved back to Argentina after less than a year – the difficulties of learning Catalan and issues with Spanish working permits prevented brothers Rodrigo and Matias from gaining employment – proved too difficult to deal with in the end, and Lionel was largely isolated in his teenage years. His Dad stayed with him in Barcelona and was his only real friend at that time, and so after training at La Masia, Messi would stay behind to work on freekicks and technical skills, partly out of his love for the game, and partly because he had nothing better to do.

After winning his fourth Ballon d’Or, Messi said:

"I am used to being the last person to leave; I like being in the dressing room. What’s more, I don’t have anything better to do. I love football and training sessions are part of football."

Ronaldinho said Messi would be better than he was after the first training session

Giovanni Van Bronckhorst in Messi, by Guilleme Balague:

"Ronaldinho said in the first training session with Leo that this youngster was going to better than him. And people laughed. With Messi, you could already see it – I had never come to that conclusion so quickly before! Not even with [Bergkamp, Henry and Ronaldinho]."

Arsene Wenger believes Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all time

His first goal for Barca was unfairly disallowed

As Messi entered the pitch Ronaldinho, who had taken Messi under his wing, said:

"I’m going to set you up to score"

He duly did. Messi lobbed the keeper but the goal was ruled out for offside. Ronaldinho told him not to worry:

"I’m going to do it again"

Ronaldinho then provided the assist for a carbon copy goal

This time it counted.

Glasgow Rangers nearly signed Messi

In the Football Manager movie, Alex Mcleish reveals that the now defunct Glasgow Rangers came very close to signing Lionel Messi:

"He told me this guy was going to be the best player in the world and I said… OK son. And gave him a pat on the head."

Rangers enquired about taking Messi on loan aged 16 when Barcelona were dealing with passport issues that prevented him from playing in the first team. Eventually Messi’s Spanish nationality was approved and he was included in the squad, ruining Scottish football’s hope of seeing The Flea on regular occasions. Also, it was thought that having players like Lee Wilkie trying to smash him into pieces probably wasn’t good for Messi’s technical development.

Inter Milan nearly paid his €150m buyout clause

During that same phase of contractual instability, Inter Milan nearly bought Messi and were apparently not put off by the €150m buyout clause in his contract. Similarly interested parties are believed to have been Juventus, Real Madrid and Arsenal. [rolling eyes emoji]

Fabio Capello made Messi “a star”

capello 2005

It’s hard to think about it now, but there was a time when Messi’s world reputation wasn’t as the greatest player of all time. In a pre-season friendly tournament in the Nou Camp, Juventus played against Frank Rijkaard‘s Barcelona, prompting Fabio Capello to say:

"When I saw him he dazzled me. I seized the opportunity to ask my friend Frank (Rijkaard) if we could have him, even on loan. But he told me, no, no way, and that Messi would end up playing that same year for Barcelona."

Later he would offer his opinion on The Flea:

"Messi is a genius, someone who can win any game. For me he is among the greats in the history of football alongside Pele, Cruyff, Di Stefano or Maradona, even though he has not yet won a World Cup."

At the end of the Barca v Juve game, Capello told journalists that “a star had been born” and the media latched on to it. Suddenly everyone was talking about the little Argentinian at Barcelona.

Messi was sent off five minutes into his Argentina debut

The one and only time Lionel Messi has ever been sent off was against Hungary on his international debut. Substituted on in the 60th minute, then 18 year old Messi’s attempt to evade the shirt pulling of Hungarian player Vilmos Vanczak resulted in his outstretched arm catching his throat. The player made the most of the situation, right in front of the referee, and he was ordered off.

Argentina players surrounded the referee to argue that this wasn’t right or fair, especially to such a young boy on his debut.

Messi later told reporters:

"I dodged past the Hungarian, who was trying to grab me by the shirt. I got myself free the best way that I could and the referee interpreted it as an elbow. It left me really angry. I had minutes to play, but whatever happened, it was not how I had dreamed it."

Diego Maradona thinks Messi is quite good

"I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi"

Messi was the third guest on Maradona’s TV show “La Noche del Diez”

Diego Maradona had a short lived series on Argentinian television where he would interview greats of sport, specifically football players like Pele, Ronaldo and Zidane. The third episode featured a then 18 year old Lionel Messi and a 20 year old Carlos Tevez.

Together, they beat Maradona and Enzo Francescoli at football tennis.

Messi doesn’t tend to dive

Messi wants the ball.

Messi does not appear in a single photograph from his first Champions League final victory

Having missed the 2005 Champions League final due to a series of muscle injuries in his thigh, Messi was so upset at not having taken part that he went to the dressing room to cry while his team-mates celebrated. Later he would join the team to enjoy the victory after Sylvinho, his close friend and mentor, talked him round, pointing out that without Messi, Barca would never have reached the final.

Messi still cries on occasion when he loses.

Gary Lineker likes him

Messi won the Ballon d’Or in 2009 with 473 out of 480 votes

Messi became the first player to win four successive Ballons d’Or

Pep Guardiola seems to rate him

"I’m sorry for those who want to occupy his throne. He is among the greatest in every sense of the word. He is capable of doing what he does every three days."

His potential ability in Football Manager is the maximum allowed

For any Football Manager nerds (like me) Messi’s hidden “potential ability” stat is 200, the maximum a player can ever reach. Ronaldo’s is 192.

In 2012, Messi scored 91 goals

Breaking a record set by Gerd Muller in 1972 of 85 goals, Messi scored his 91st goal of the calendar year against Valladolid.

He won an Olympic gold medal

In 2008, after persuading Barcelona to let him join Argentina’s Olympic squad, Messi won Olympic gold. The final was against Nigeria, the team his Under-20s side defeated in the World Cup previously.

Johan Cruyff likes him

"For the world of football, Messi is a treasure because he is a role model for children around the world. He is incomparable. He’s in a different league"

He’s broken a few records

He’s won a few awards

He’s won a few trophies

He (deservedly) won the Golden Ball in the Brazil World Cup 2014

Lionel Messi completely deserved to win the Golden Ball because he was absolutely brilliant

This won Best Sports Photograph of 2014

He is the best player of all time

There will never be another like Lionel Messi: an individualist who sacrificed everything to chase his dream of being a footballer, who grew up in one of the greatest club teams of all time, which was then built around his unique ability, and at time where he was challenged to the crown of “World’s Best” by one of the most outstanding footballers of any generation (Ronaldo).

In twenty years from now people will talk about Messi as though he were a fictional character. “Ronaldo vs Messi” is a competition that has undoubtedly driven both players to improve, but Ronaldo is compared only to Messi, whereas Messi is compared to the greats; how we wish we could watch Maradona and Pele take to a football pitch today instead of reliving their highlights on low res YouTube videos.

And on that note, may I recommend you take the opportunity to watch Leo Messi play as much as you possibly can, while you can.

Luis Enrique:

"We all know what Leo Messi is. He is without doubt the best player in the world, but also the best in the history of football."

On a snowy Sunday afternoon in December, 1973, I went to visit two Chilean graduate students at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. With the covert support of the Nixon Administration, a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet had toppled Chile’s democratically elected leftist President, Salvador Allende, about two months earlier. I was going to write an article for the student newspaper about those grad students, both Allende supporters, who feared that they would be arrested or disappeared on their return home.

While we spoke, their attention kept drifting to an unexpected distraction: a small black-and-white TV tuned to the N.F.L. game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys. The grad students were fervently rooting for Dallas. When I asked why, I discovered they had no particular affinity for the Cowboys, a team quarterbacked by a Navy veteran, Roger Staubach, and owned by an oil magnate, Clint Murchison. It was simply that Dallas was the available cudgel to whack Washington, the team avidly embraced by Richard Nixon. The Cowboys’ 27–7 win that day supplied at least a tiny bit of payback for the geopolitical meddling that would upend their lives and inflict a murderous dictatorship on Chile.

That long-ago football game returned vividly to mind for me as this year’s Super Bowl, between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, became a strikingly politicized event—from the pro-immigration commercials of Budweiser and 84 Lumber, among other companies, to the widely discussed friendship between President Trump and the Patriots’ owner, Robert Kraft, and the murkier Trump contacts with the head coach, Bill Belichick, and the quarterback, Tom Brady.

Then, in the wake of the Patriots’ thrilling 34–28 overtime victory, six players, five of whom are African-American—Martellus Bennett, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, LeGarrette Blount, and Alan Branch—announced they would skip the team’s ceremonial visit to Trump at the White House. All this dissidence, of course, capped an N.F.L. season marked by the San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s weekly ritual of kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

In the diehard fans’ realm that the journalist Robert Lipsyte famously dubbed “Sportsworld,” such activism gets routinely criticized on the premise that politics should be kept out of sports, that sports should be the place where a polarized society can set aside its ideological differences to root for the home team. And when the athletic activist happens to be black, the critique often takes the racialized form of white fans demanding to know what some millionaire jock has to complain about.

To put things metrically, a nationwide survey last fall by Remington Research found that about two-thirds of respondents opposed professional football players using “the N.F.L. as a stage for their political views.” The number was markedly higher for men than women, whites than blacks, Republicans than Democrats, and conservatives than liberals.

The whole question, though, rests on a fallacy: that the N.F.L. has ever been a politics-free zone. To the contrary, professional football has been suffused with politics for decades. But because those politics so often tended to be conservative and pro-military, they looked to kindred fans like a normal, neutral baseline rather than an obvious skew.

As a sport, football cannot help evoking combat. Players wear elaborate armor. Terminology like “blitz” and “field general” borrows from the lexicon of war. Casualties are borne off the field of battle. And from the Vietnam War through the Iraq war, the N.F.L. has provided a few vivid examples of sacrifice and martyrdom. Rocky Bleier, a halfback on the great Pittsburgh Steelers team of the nineteen-seventies, was conscripted after his rookie year and suffered a severe injury in combat, earning him the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Pat Tillman, a defensive back on the Arizona Cardinals, enlisted after the September 11th attacks and was killed in a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan.

Anyone who regularly watches or attends N.F.L. games takes for granted the military pageantry—flyovers by Air Force pilots, paratroopers descending to midfield, color guards presenting the flag. Less well-known is the fact that the Department of Defense paid about six million dollars to sixteen N.F.L. teams, between 2010 and 2015, to hold various salutes to the military. What appeared to most spectators to be sincere expressions of patriotism were actually advertisements and cross-branding.

Given the heady conflation of football, patriotism, and the military, it is no surprise that Richard Nixon, above all other Presidents, sought to leverage the sport for partisan and ideological advantage. During his 1968 campaign, Nixon considered Vince Lombardi, the iconic coach who had just retired from the Green Bay Packers, as a running mate. (In fact, Lombardi was a lifelong Democrat who had experienced prejudice as a dark-skinned Italian and supported gay players and staff on the Packers, in part because he had a gay brother.) When George Allen took over as head coach of the Redskins, in 1971, Nixon visited the team at practice to talk about General George Patton. He also, infamously, recommended an end-around play that lost thirteen yards in a game against the 49ers.

Between shooting wars, the culture wars often animated pro football. From the ubiquitous “John 3:16” banners held by fans to Tim Tebow’s end-zone prayers, the rhetoric and imagery of evangelical Christianity suffused both the stands and the field. However genuine these expressions of individual faith may have been, they also took place during the years when evangelical Christianity was asserting itself in partisan politics on such issues as abortion and gay rights.

Yet there has also been frequent pushback, a counternarrative, around the matter of race. Amid the Cold War’s battle for hearts and minds in the developing world, the Kennedy Administration felt sufficiently embarrassed by the Redskins’ deliberately all-white roster to pressure the team to sign a black player, Bobby Mitchell. Shortly before the kickoff of this year’s Super Bowl, the N.F.L. held an on-field ceremony honoring several dozen Hall of Fame players who had come from historically black colleges and universities.

They were introduced by Doug Williams, who was the first African-American quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl game, with the Redskins, in 1988. In breaking the quarterback color barrier in the N.F.L., pioneers like Williams, James Harris, and Marlin Briscoe shattered one of the pillars of racism: the assumption that blacks lacked the intelligence and character to be quarterbacks, or any other kinds of leaders.

Whatever attitudes N.F.L. fans may hold about affirmative action, the league operates on a highly successful version of it. The Rooney Rule requires that at least one black, Hispanic, Asian-American, or female candidate be interviewed for vacant top executive positions, including head coach and general manager. Without the rule, which was promulgated by a group of black former players and scouts, along with their legal allies, called the Fritz Pollard Alliance, it’s highly unlikely that some Super Bowl champion coaches, such as Mike Tomlin, of the Steelers, and general managers, such as Jerry Reese, of the Giants, ever would have been given a chance.

So Martellus Bennett, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, and the other Patriots who may join them in solidarity are hardly sullying the pristine, apolitical pastures of football. In defying a President with a long history of racist behavior—from discriminating against black tenants in his family’s real-estate empire, to calling for the execution of the falsely accused and wrongly convicted black teen-agers in the Central Park jogger case, to promoting the birther calumny against President Barack Obama—these players are just showing that in politics, as well as football, there are two sides to the field.

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