Before Messi Was Abusing Defenders, He Was Abusing Extremely Confused Defenders
Lionel Messi was never a little-known quantity. When he scored nearly 500 goals for Newell’s Old Boys as a young boy, people took notice. That’s why Barcelona made the highly unusual decision to sign a 13-year-old foreign player. That’s why, aged 17 years, three months and 22 days, he became Barcelona’s youngest-ever representative in an official competition. It’s why he represented La Albiceleste, the two-time world champions, at 18.
He wasn’t a talent or a prodigy; he was almost always confirmed as the real deal after observers were given a minute or two to watch him on the pitch. But his age, size, demeanor and a combination of thigh/hamstring/metatarsal injuries kept him out of limelight for as long as possible . . . until he hit a legendary hat-trick against Real Madrid in 2007 as a 19-year-old.
And that really was his breakthrough. Messi finished the 2006-07 season with 14 goals in 26 matches — the kinds of numbers that make the world take notice — but the train really didn’t leave the station until that hat-trick, a return of 11 goals in the season’s last 13 games and a three-week period that saw him replicate compatriot Diego Maradona’s two most famous goals for Barcelona (the Goal of the Century and the Hand of God).
But prior to this three-month tear that set the wheel of Messi in motion, the 5 foot nothin’, 100 and nothin’ Argentine must’ve still been nothing more than a curiosity for seasoned La Liga defenders. Here are five moments when Spanish defenses learned firsthand that this cat needed to be closed down, man-marked and just avoided at all costs.
#1. Lionel Messi | Age: 17
2004-05 La Liga match vs. Albacete
Sunday, May 1, 2005
Messi feeds Ronaldinho at the top of the box, holds his run for the Brazilian maestro and then clips an impudent first-time lob over the Albacete goalkeeper. It’s Messi’s first senior goal for Barcelona.
#2. Lionel Messi | Age: 18
2005-06 La Liga match vs. Racing Santander
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Messi receives the ball from Samuel Eto’o on the right wing. He drives at the Racing defense before cutting inside a stationary defender (staying on his feet after the defender fouls him) and guiding a left-footed effort inside the far post.
#3. Lionel Messi | Age: 18
2005-06 La Liga match vs. RCD Mallorca
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Messi exchanges passes with Sylvinho on the left wing before cutting inside Mallorca’s defense and dispatching a right-footed shot inside the far post. He then adds a second after delightfully chipping in a superb through ball from Ronaldinho.
#4. Lionel Messi | Age: 19
2006-07 La Liga match vs. Celta Vigo
Monday, August 28, 2006
A fantastic Barcelona goal is finished by Messi after a clever turn and left-footed finish. Andres Iniesta provides the assist after flying through Celta Vigo’s half.
#5. Lionel Messi | Age 19
2006-07 La Liga match vs. Sevilla
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Messi dances through three Sevilla defenders and finishes beyond a lunging fourth to score one of his greatest early goals. Special mention to the long ball from Rafa Marquez to start the attack.
— Footballia (@footballiaweb) December 11, 2017