Olympic Stars - Lionel Messi
Barcelona starlet aiming for Olympic gold to add to reputation.
By James Dall. Last Updated: 07/08/08 2:48pm
Lionel Messi, like an Argentine Harry Potter, possesses that wizardly touch. Youthful and unquestionably gifted, he is a character from J. K. Rowling's pen.
The football world is so often guilty of over-hyping a player but, in Messi's case, words of splendour to the nth degree are justified.
Therefore, the Olympics are as good a stage as any for the 21-year-old to put on yet another show to be remembered.
However, via the modern day's 'what's mine is not yours' underpinning, Barcelona wished to have their cake and eat it.
Last season's disappointment at the Camp Nou means the Spanish giants must qualify for the UEFA Champions League through the preliminary fixtures; a process Barca are keen to endure with their star man.
Messi, though, is desperate to fulfil his 'dream' and represent his country at Beijing. Therein lay the problem.
Born in Rosario, Sante Fe, the schemer began his career at Newell's Old Boys but, in a bizarre twist of fate, came to the attention of the Catalonians after his parents moved to Spain in a bid to cure their 11-year-old's hormone deficiency.
"I've seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentinean football and his name is Messi. He is beautiful to watch - my kind of player in our blue-and-white jersey," said Diego Maradona.
Messi was offered a trial by Barca at the age of 13 and, after making his mark in the reserve side some years later, became the third youngest player to appear for the club when he made his debut for the first-team in October 2004 against Espanyol aged just 17 years and four months.
His international exploits soon took off and in late August 2005 the diminutive forward was handed his international debut against Hungary.
Messi's progress at Barca, meanwhile, had been hampered. The club had already filled their quota of non-European Union players and it was not until the 18-year-old gained Spanish citizenship in the month after his first international outing that he was able to feature regularly for the Liga giants.
Inspired by Messi et al, Barcelona were dressed in all their finery as the 2004/05 and 2005/06 terms dealt out success in spoonfuls courtesy of two Primera Division titles and a UEFA Champions League crown.
However, it has not been all beaming smiles along the way. Injury has often hit him hard, crippling the regularity of his first-team football.
In fact, large chunks of the previous two campaigns have seen spectators robbed of Messi sorcery, with only sprinklings of sheer class on view.
The crux of the matter is that when he is on form, there are few better. Cast your mind back.
Recollect that Maradona-esque run in the Copa del Rey semi-final goal against Getafe or that simply outrageous scoop in the last four of the Copa America against Mexico.
Now expect further open-mouthed gawping at the Olympic Games, for Messi is an entertainer, a footballer with pure of heart.