Argentina

Lionel Messi

Lionel Andrés Messi is a professional footballer, born on 24 June 1987, in Rosario, Argentina. He plays in La Liga for FC Barcelona and captains the Argentina national team, mainly as a forward. Messi started playing football at the age of 8, for the Newell's Old Boys, a team in Rosario. Being smaller than most of the boys he played with, he was diagnosed with a hormone deficiency that restricted his growth. Messi's parents couldn't afford to pay for the medication. So, at the age of 13, when Messi was offered a chance to play for Barcelona, which also promised to have his medical bills covered, Messi's family moved to Spain. Short and fast with a fierce style of play, he soon was in the centre of attention.

On September 25, 2005 Messi obtained a Spanish citizenship and was finally able to make his debut in the season's Spanish First Division. In 2005 he was named the player of the tournament at under-20 World Cup, scoring six goals, including two in the final game. In the same year he played his first game for the Argentine national team (against Hungary on 17 August), and on May 1, 2005, being only 17 years, 10 months and 7 days old, he became the youngest player ever to play A La Liga game and the youngest to score a goal for FC Barcelona - against Albacete.

In 2006, Messi became the youngest Argentine to play in the FIFA World Cup and he won a runners-up medal at the Copa América tournament the following year. In 2008, in Beijing, he won his first international honour, an Olympic gold medal, with the Argentina Olympic football team. In 2009 Messi helped Barcelona win the Copa del Rey, Spain's La Liga championship, and the Champions League. In recent years Messi has become one of the game's highest paid players, earning an estimated $18 million a year. He won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2009; the award then was renamed the FIFA Ballon d'Or award in 2010 and Messi was the first winner of the new combined award in 2010, and also in 2011. He is also the winner of the 2010–11 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award.  

He has been compared to Diego Maradona due to his playing style and small stature. Maradona himself declared Messi as his "successor". Messi has won five La Liga titles and three Champions League titles. In 2012, Messi made UEFA Champions League history by becoming the first player to score five goals in one match, in a 7–1 win against Bayer Leverkusen. With a brace in the next round against A.C. Milan, he matched José Altafini's record of 14 goals in a single UEFA Champions League season.  After a further two goals the following week against Real Zaragoza, Messi became the first player since Gerd Müller in the 1972–73 campaign to score 60 goals in a single European season.

In early 2010 Messi was named a Goodwill Ambassador by UNICEF with a focus on fighting for children's rights across the globe.

 

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