Lionel Andrés Messi (born 24 June 1987) is an Argentine footballer who plays in La Liga for FC Barcelona and captains the Argentina national team, mainly as a forward.
Messi received Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year nominations by the age of 21, and won in 2009 (2009 Ballon d'Or and 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year), 2010 (2010 FIFA Ballon d'Or) and 2011 (2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or). He also won the 2010–11 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award. His playing style and small stature has drawn comparisons to Diego Maradona, who himself declared Messi as his "successor."
Messi was born in Rosario, Santa Fe, to parents Jorge Horacio Messi, a factory steel worker, and Celia María Cuccittini, a part-time cleaner. His paternal family originates from the Italian city of Ancona, from which his ancestor, Angelo Messi, emigrated to Argentina in 1883. He has two older brothers named Rodrigo and Matías as well as a sister named María Sol. At the age of five, Messi started playing football for Grandoli, a local club coached by his father Jorge. In 1995, Messi switched to Newell's Old Boys who were based in his home city Rosario. At the age of 11, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. The traditional River Plate showed interest in Messi's progress, but did not have enough money to pay for treatment for his condition which cost $900 a month. Carles Rexach, the sporting director of FC Barcelona, had been made aware of his talent as Messi had relatives in Lleida, Catalonia, and Messi and his father were able to arrange a trial. Rexach, with no other paper at hand, offered Messi a contract written on a paper napkin. Barcelona offered to pay for Messi's medical bills if he was willing to move to Spain. Messi and his father moved to Barcelona where Messi enrolled in the club's youth academy.
Upon Ronaldinho's departure from the club, Messi inherited his number 10 jersey. On 1 October 2008, during a Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk, Messi scored two goals during the last seven minutes, after coming on as a substitute for Thierry Henry, to turn a 1–0 deficit to a 2–1 victory for Barcelona. The next league game was versus Atlético Madrid, a match billed as a friendly battle between Messi and his good friend Sergio Agüero. Messi scored a goal from a free kick and assisted another as Barça went on to win the match 6–1. Messi netted another impressive brace against Sevilla scoring a volley from 23 metres (25 yd) and then dribbling round the goalkeeper and scoring from a tight angle for the other. On 13 December 2008, during the first Clásico of the season, Messi scored the second goal in Barcelona's 2–0 win over Real Madrid. He was also named second in the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year awards with 678 points.
After winning the 2009 UEFA Super Cup, Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola asserted that Messi was probably the best player he had ever seen. On 18 September, Messi signed a new contract with Barcelona, running until 2016 and with a buy-out clause of €250 million included, making Messi, along with Zlatan Ibrahimović, the highest paid players in La Liga, with earnings of around €9.5 million yearly. Four days later, on 22 September, Messi scored two goals and assisted another in Barça's 4–1 win over Racing Santander in La Liga. He scored his first European goal of the season on 29 September in a 2–0 win over Dynamo Kyiv, and then took his goal tally to six goals in seven games in La Liga with a strike during a 6–1 routing of Real Zaragoza at Camp Nou.
Messi was named winner of the 2009 Ballon d'Or on 1 December 2009, beating runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo by largest ever margin of 473 to 233. Afterwards, France Football magazine quoted Messi as saying: "I dedicate it to my family. They were always present when I needed them and sometimes felt even stronger emotions than me."