Often considered as one of the greatest players of all time, Lionel Messi is a true cultural icon.
The Argentine maestro's road to stardom started at his hometown team of Newell's Old Boys when he joined the Rosario-based club at the age of six in 1994.
Messi scored almost 500 goals as a member of "The Machine of '87" during his six-year stint with the youth team and was tipped to become a football superstar.
“I want to return to Newell’s with Messi," former Tottenham Hotspur manager and Newell's Old Boys academy product Mauricio Pochettino said on Radio del Plata.
"I can still wait, [for an opportunity] and the best [possible scenario] would be in 10 years with Messi."
His goalscoring idol growing up was Brazilian legend Ronaldo, with Messi calling him "the best forward I've ever seen."
Nicknamed Leo, Messi had a successful trial stint with one of Ronaldo's former clubs, FC Barcelona in 2000 and joined the Spanish giants' academy the following year.
Leo became an integral part of the "Baby Dream Team", Barcelona's greatest-ever youth side which had the likes of Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas on their books.
Messi rapidly progressed through the club's ranks during the 2003/04 season, debuting for a record five teams in a single campaign.
The diminutive genius made his first-team debut during a friendly against José Mourinho's FC Porto on 16 November 2003 at the age of 16.
His exploits while playing for the reserve team caught the attention of the first-team coach Frank Rijkaard and the Dutch coach handed Messi his La Liga debut against Espanyol in October 2004.
At 17-years-old, three months, and 22 days, he was at the time the youngest player to represent Barcelona in an official competition.
Leo scored his first senior goal on 1 May 2005, against Albacete, from an assist by Brazilian icon Ronaldinho, becoming, at that time, the youngest-ever scorer for the club.
Messi has spent his entire professional career with Barcelona, where he has won a club-record 34 trophies, including ten La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League titles and six Copas del Rey.
"He (Messi) is a god for everyone and also you have to give considerable praise to Andres Iniesta," Rijkaard said on Marca.
"I continue to watch all the players from afar, they have had great careers."
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The 32-year-old holds the records for most goals in La Liga (438), a La Liga and European league season (50), most hat-tricks in La Liga (36) and the UEFA Champions League (8), and most assists in La Liga (181).
Blessed with a special left foot, Messi has also won a record six Ballon d'Or awards and a record six European Golden Shoes.
At international level, Leo is Argentina's all-time leading goalscorer (70 goals) and played an instrumental role in helping his nation finish second at the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals where he won the Golden Ball.
Messi was also successful at youth international football where he won the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, finishing the tournament with both the Golden Ball and Golden Shoe.
The Rosario-born player, who won an Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics, was the world's highest-paid footballer for five years out of six between 2009 and 2014 according to France Football.
Leo was also ranked the world's highest-paid athlete by Forbes in 2019 and the reigning Laureus World Sportsman of the Year was among Time's 100 most influential people in the world in 2011 and 2012.
"For the world of football, Messi is a treasure because he is a role model for children around the world," Dutch and Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff said on Eurosport.
"Messi will be the player to win the most Ballons d’Or in history. He will win five, six, seven. He is incomparable. He’s in a different league."
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