He has been hailed as one of the greatest footballers to have ever graced the beautiful game – if not the best ever.
Lionel Messi’s ability to pass players like they are just there to watch him perform his magic in the field has made him one of the most feared players in the world and got his die-hard supporters calling him “Messiah”.
The Argentine has won everything there is to win on a club level, including five Ballon d’Ors (world footballer of the year awards), becoming the first player in history to do so.
The pint-sized superstar played a huge role with Spanish giants Barcelona, who have been hailed as one of the best clubs in recent seasons.
Their tiki-taka approach has won them many fans around the world. The Messi-led team has won an impressive 24 trophies in the past 12 years, including four Uefa Champions League and eight La Liga titles. In 2009 they only lost one match in the league.
But Messi has come under a lot of heavy criticism for his failure to inspire his countrymen to win trophies, the most recent coming from former player Diego Maradona, who reportedly said that Messi had “no personality” and lacked the character to be a leader.
But Messi quickly responded on the pitch when he scored a hat-trick in his side’s 5-0 against Panama on Friday when the two teams clashed in the group stages.
In the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil, Messi was only 30 minutes away from winning the highest honour in football. But Germany’s Mario Gotze shattered those dreams when he scored the winning goal in extra time.
He has failed to win a trophy with Argentina since he was first introduced to the senior national team in 2006.
This has been a surprise to many considering that he has been labelled as the player who can match countryman Maradona, who has won the World Cup in 1986 and inspired them to the final in 1990 as defending champions.
Argentina last tasted major cup victory when Messi was just six years old in 1993 when they won the Copa América held in Ecuador.
Argentina will meet Bolivia on Wednesday (at 4am South African time). If all goes well for Messi, he and his men will be on their way to the quarterfinals on Sunday.
He will be hoping that Argentina don’t follow the lead set by their neighbours Brazil, who crashed out of their Copa América campaign in the group stages due to what has been hailed as “the worst refereeing displays ever seen in a major tournament”.
Only time will tell if Messi can help end Argentina’s 23-year drought in the Copa América – and it won’t be long. Time is ticking for the 28-year-old – he turns 29 next Friday – not exactly a spring chicken as far as the beautiful game goes.