From the slums to the pedestal: the biography of Lionel Messi, the world’s best soccer player and a mother’s son

Lionel Messi is 35 years old. This, by human standards, is just the beginning of his life. But his soccer career is coming to an end, and the World Cup ended for this soccer star was definitely his last.

Lionel Messi is retiring incredibly beautifully, with the Gold Cup. Today, Argentina loves him.

Everybody loves a winner. But for many years, his homeland considered him a European, detached from his roots, who can only bring joy from victories to the fans of Barcelona, which raised him.

Although Messi himself, a man who usually ignores his detractors, once said: «Argentina is my homeland, my family. I would trade all my records to make people in my country happy.»

Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini, game number 10, who inherited it from the illustrious Diego Maradona, holder of all kinds of records and titles, defended the honor of Argentina in the national team four times.

And in the fifth fate finally gave credit to one of the greatest players in history. In the final match of the 2022 World Cup, December 18, Messi played one of the best games of his career and scored three goals against France.

Both teams competed for the World Cup title for the third time. But there was only one winner, and it was Argentina.

In addition, Lionel Messi is the top scorer in the history of the championship of Spain, Barcelona and Argentina. Recognized as one of the best footballers of all time.

Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, six-time Golden Boot winner.

An academy pupil of FC Barcelona, with this club he has won ten Spanish titles, four UEFA Champions League, seven Spanish Cups, eight Spanish Super Cups, three European Super Cups and three Club World Championships.

French champion and French Super Cup winner with Paris Saint-Germain.

The birth of a legend

Lionel «Leo» Messi was born on June 24, 1987 in Rosario, Argentina.

His father — Jorge Horacio Messi — was a worker in a steel mill, and his mother — Celia Maria Cuccittini — was privately engaged in cleaning, and at other times raised four children: the footballer has two older brothers — Rodrigo and Matias, and a sister, Maria Sol.

His father’s family comes from Recanati, Italy, where his ancestor, Angelo Messi, emigrated to Argentina in 1883, and his other ancestors were from Catalonia.

The future footballer’s schooling was very average, and his favorite classes were physical education and music. Now at the school where he studied, there is a museum of him.

He himself, when he became a professional soccer player, bought furniture, computers and textbooks for his native school.

Messi started soccer at the age of five, in the children’s club Grandoli. The team’s soccer field was far from the house where Messi’s family lived, and his grandmother Celia took him to his first lessons.

She really wanted her grandson to be a soccer player. His grandmother died when Leo was 11 years old, and Lionel later dedicated most of his goals to her and, when he scored, he raised two index fingers to the sky.

With Lionel’s arrival, Grandoli began to win more often. Messi received the ball and went around opponents at high speed, he did not pass to his teammates, preferring to score on his own.

Outside the field, players of opposing teams often threatened to beat Messi, and he ended up being escorted to games by his older cousins who were also soccer players.

When the boy was seven years old, his father legally signed Lionel to a contract with the Newell’s Old Boys, the first contract of his life. From 1994 to 2000 Messi scored more than 500 goals for the club.

When the young athlete was 10 years old, he was diagnosed with somatotropin growth hormone deficiency.

At that time, his height was 127 cm and his weight was about 30 kg. The examination was long and lasted for half a year, as a result he was prescribed regular injections.

The treatment was expensive and, for his poor family, a mere pittance. His family’s savings and insurance payments only covered two years of therapy, while he needed at least three. Jorge Messi, Lionel’s father, approached the Newell’s Old Boys for a loan, but they were allocated only a measly 400 pesos, whereas treatment cost 1,000 pesos a month.

The family already knew their son could have a great future, and they were going to fight for his health.

The River Plate Club was interested in the talented child, but because of the Argentine economic crisis, neither had the money to pay for the treatment of this soccer nugget.

The club of his life

Lionel was 13 when soccer agents from Rosario — Martin Montero and Fabián Soldini — who had connections with Barcelona’s management, promised Messi’s father to arrange a screening at the club, and Leo and his father went to Spain.

On October 3, 2000 Messi played together with 15-year-olds at the screening. The sporting director of the Blue Granatas, Carles Resac, was overwhelmed by the teenager’s talent.

He persuaded the Barça board to pay for the boy’s treatment and sponsor Messi’s family’s move to Europe, as the homegrown child did not want to live in a dormitory, plus, by law, he had to be accompanied by a parent.

In January 2001, Barcelona promised the Messi family a loan of 120 thousand euros to cover all necessary expenses. In mid-February, the whole Messi family moved to Barcelona.

On March 1 the final contract was signed, Messi was entitled to a payment of 100 million pesetas per year, as well as a number of additional payments.

At the age of 13, Lionel ended up in the youth team of Barcelona. The whole family had a hard time adapting to the new place of residence.

In Barcelona, people spoke mostly Catalan, and Latin Americans were disrespected. After going home, the Messi family as a whole expressed a desire to stay in their homeland.

Only Jorge Messi insisted that they should get used to life in Europe and overcome difficulties together.

At the same time, a new general manager Javier Farguel came to the club with a plan to reduce Barcelona’s costs. He wanted to cut Messi’s fee by a factor of five, to 20 million pesetas.

Messi’s father threatened to sign a contract with Barça’s arch-rival Real Madrid and even managed to contact their sporting director.

As a result, on December 5, 2001 Messi signed a new contract, which was even somewhat more favorable than the first. By this time for the 14-year-old Leo had reached the end of treatment. He grew to 169 centimeters, but learned to take advantage of it.

At the Barcelona team until the age of 16 Messi was coached by Angel Guillermo Hoyos, who developed for Lionel a system of strength training to gain muscle mass, and also appointed team captain.

On November 16, 2003 Messi made his debut for the Barcelona main team in a friendly game, and in an official match on October 16, 2004.

His first goal for the «blue-chested» Argentine scored on May 1, 2005. At that point he was only 17 years 10 months and 7 days.

The undying interest in the player by other clubs prompted Barcelona to sign a new contract with Messi until 2014, which also included a bonus on the purchase of the house, only the amount of outgoings remained the same (150 million euros), then it rose to 250 million.

On December 1, Lionel Messi received the Golden Ball for the first time in his career. With 473 points out of a possible 480, Messi became the first Argentine to win the award.

Messi won the Golden Boot for the first time in his career following the 2009/10 season. A total of seven Golden Boot winners and six-time Ballon d’Or winners during his career.

Together with Barcelona he has won ten Spanish league titles, four UEFA Champions League titles, seven Spanish Cups, eight Spanish Supercups, three European Super Cups and three Club World Cups.

All in all, Lionel Messi has scored 793 goals in his career to date. No article would be enough to list his soccer merits. Of course, there have been losses and many injuries in the player’s career.

As long as Messi played for Barcelona, there were rumors that he would leave the club. However, each time the contract with the player was signed again.

At the end of August 2020 the media began to report on Messi’s growing dissatisfaction with the actions of the Barcelona management.

«I wanted to leave because I didn’t feel happy at the club lately. However, no matter how many times I leave or stay, my love for the club will never change,» Leo said of the situation.

Nevertheless, the club has expressed its desire to «build a team around the most important player in the world».

Also, the Barcelona management has stated that Messi can leave only if a potential buyer pays the established option of 700 million euros in his contract.

Nevertheless, it is time to say goodbye to the club that believed in him, nurtured and raised him, the club that Messi calls «the team of his life».

On July 1, 2021, Lionel Messi became a free agent. For the first time in his professional career, Messi has ceased to be a player for Barcelona. And the COVID-19 pandemic is to blame.

«I gave this club everything. I wish I had said goodbye under different circumstances. I never imagined my last day at Barcelona,» Messi said at his farewell press conference, interrupted several times by tears that choked him.

According to Spanish league rules, there is a ceiling on expenses per team, which is determined according to the financial statements of the club. Because of the pandemic restrictions, Barcelona’s revenues have fallen by half.

Participation in the national team of Argentina

On September 26, 2005 Messi received Spanish citizenship while retaining his Argentine citizenship. Spain offered him the chance to represent his country in international matches, but the Argentine opted for his homeland.

He made his debut at the 2006 World Cup. The attitude towards him on the part of compatriots was far from unequivocal.

He even decided to leave the national team, which he announced in 2017. After that, Argentina began a campaign aimed at his return to the national team.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri also urged Messi not to leave, saying, «We are lucky, it is one of the joys of life, it is a gift from God to have the best player in the world in a soccer country like ours.»

Throughout his career, Lionel Messi has been compared to his compatriot Diego Maradona because of a similar style of play, besides, both of them played at number 10.

In human terms, Messi is the opposite of his predecessor: Maradona was a defiant and controversial character, while Messi is reserved and modest, not seen in scandals and his actions outside of football are not the subject of discussion.

Since 2008, Messi has been in a relationship with Antonella Rocuzzo. They grew up together in Rosario and have known each other since the age of five, Rocuzzo is the cousin of Messi’s childhood best friend, Lucas Scaglia, also a football player.

On November 2, 2012, Messi and Rocuzzo had a son, Thiago. Messi tattooed the name of his firstborn on his left shin. On September 11, 2015, the couple had their second son, Mateo.

On March 10, 2018, the third son, Chiro, was born. For a long time, Messi and Rocuzzo lived in an informal marriage, the official wedding took place only on June 30, 2017 at the Rosario Hotel.

Leo maintains a close relationship with his closest relatives, especially his mother Celia, whose face is tattooed on his left shoulder.

Family members are also involved in Messi’s own career: his father Jorge, since the age of 14 of Leo works as his agent, defending his son’s interests, while his older brother Rodrigo is in charge of routines and advertising.

His mother and another brother, Matias, run Messi’s charitable organization, as well as running his business in Rosario.

Throughout his career, Lionel Messi has been involved in charitable activities to help children, partly because of the difficulties he himself faced as a child.

Since 2004, Messi has been contributing money to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In 2012, Messi fully paid for the treatment of a 12-year-old Moroccan boy who wanted to become a soccer player, but could not do so because of a growth hormone deficiency.

In addition to his work with UNICEF, Lionel founded his own charity in 2007, the «Leo Messi Foundation», which helps children receive medical care and education.

Messi founded the foundation after visiting a clinic for terminally ill children in Boston, it was then that he decided to give part of his income to charity.

Messi also invests in soccer in his homeland: he supports the soccer club Sarmiento, based in the Rosario district, where Lionel himself was born.

He supports the youth teams of Newell’s Old Boys, Rosario Central, River Plate and Boca Juniors.

Messi has been one of the highest-paid players in the world since 2008. In 2020, Messi became the second soccer player and the second athlete in a team sport after Cristiano Ronaldo to earn more than one billion dollars during his career.

In addition to salary and bonuses, a large part of Messi’s income comes from a large number of advertising contracts.

It is too early to say what will happen when Lionel Messi decides to end his soccer career. But we can be happy that the title of world champion was given to the athlete who deserved it, perhaps, more than anyone else.

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