It is difficult to know where to start. My career as a football journalist has coincided with Lionel Messi’s time as a player – and watching him has been such a pleasure.
So many memories stand out. I was asked the question on Facebook and thought it merited a blog post.
I remember speaking to a couple of Barcelona youth coaches in Mexico City back in 2004. They told me there was an exciting young player at La Masia. His name was Messi.
Later that year, he made his debut for the Catalan club. And at the end of the 2004-05 season, he scored his first goal, against Albacete, after he was set up by Ronaldinho. Minutes earlier, he had netted with a similar strike which was ruled offside.
It was a symbolic moment. Ronaldinho was the star, but ultimately that mantle would belong to Messi as the Brazilian passed him the ball and later the baton to be Barcelona’s main man.
I moved to Barcelona in 2006. Messi was still raw and also injury prone. He was wearing the number 19 shirt, having previously worn 30, he had long hair, shunned the limelight and was still a shy teenager.
But how he grew. Watching his progress under father figure Frank Rijkaard and his transformation into the world’s finest footballer in Pep Guardiola’s great team was something special.
Of the moments I have seen live, the highlights include his brilliant hat-trick versus Real Madrid in what was his first Camp Nou Clásico, his four-goal show against Arsenal in the Champions League, his sublime strike in the Copa del Rey final in 2015, watching him in three successive games in three different countries (Spain, Germany and Chile) as he won the treble with Barça and then kicked off in the Copa América with Argentina, his wonderful last-minute curler for the Albiceleste in the World Cup in Brazil, seeing him collect his fifth Ballon d’Or in Zurich…
I also had the pleasure of interviewing Leo ahead of the 2010 World Cup. He was humble, friendly and spoke much better than he is given credit for. Hopefully I will have the opportunity for another one-on-one with him in future.
My very first memories of football were watching Diego Maradona at his peak and he was incredible, but as Jorge Valdano once said: “Messi is Maradona in 1986 every day.”
That pretty much sums it up. Leo is the greatest I have seen and probably the greatest I ever will. Now he is 30 and there is less left than we have already witnessed. So let’s enjoy him while we can…