Lionel Messi: One of a kind

That little magician from Argentina, Lionel Messi, claimed a record fifth Ballon d’Or on January 11.  He reasserted himself on the world football stage after three years, having dominated the podium for four years in-a-row from 2009.

FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

It would take a brave man to bet against the South-American maestro from adding more feathers to his cap before he calls it a day. Surely, he will make fans realise what audacious talent he has been blessed with and how lucky they are to watch him torment defenders week in-week out with nonchalance and elegance.

The story of Lionel Messi, though, has been one of defying the odds from the outset. His latest triumph is in keeping with the script as the little magician reinvented himself to stake his claim as the greatest of all time.

Having been diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency as a child, Messi was always battling the odds. With his father’s health insurance covering just two years of growth hormone therapy, everyone feared the worse before a relative living in Barcelona arranged a trial for Messi to attend. Spellbound by Messi’s talent, FC Barcelona’s team director wanted to sign him immediately.

The decision was met with hesitation by FC Barcelona’s Board of Directors. However, upon receiving an ultimatum, their sporting director offered him a contract on a napkin with no paper around and Barcelona agreed to pay for his on-going growth hormone therapy in a move that changed the face of modern football.

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP

After joining the Catalan giant’s famed La Masia Academy, Messi was one of the lynchpins in the ‘Baby Dream Team’ that featured the likes of Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas and is still spoken of as Barcelona’s greatest youth side.

Even though Pique and Fabregas left the Catalan club in search of regular first-team football, Messi decided to stay and look to break in to a Barcelona first team filled with its own galaxy of stars. At 17 years, three months and 22 days of age, he became the youngest to represent the Catalan outfit when he came on as a substitute in a side that featured the Ballon d’Or holder at the time and fellow Barca Legend, Ronaldinho. Little did anyone know then that a star was born, an individual who would redefine the term world-class and a player who had to stick needles into his legs night after night over a period of three years in his commitment to become the greatest to ever grace a football pitch.

As the years rolled on, the diminutive maestro from Rosario surpassed Michel Platini’s record of three successive Ballon d’Or wins from 1983. His latest triumph, if anything, cements his status as the greatest. After watching Cristiano Ronaldo win back-to-back honours in 2013 and 2014, Messi came back stronger in a new role to summit the footballing world.

PAU BARRENA / AFP

Messi’s recent addition to his unparalleled collection of awards is a little different from his previous four. When Tito Villanova stepped down as manager because he was diagnosed with cancer, many believed that Barcelona’s talisman had begun to decline. Messi shared a close relationship with the now deceased Villanova since he was 13.

Messi’s off-field field troubles involving his father and tax-evasion issues coincided with a dip in his performances. He acknowledged criticism and vowed to improve after a below-par season in which he scored 51 goals and had 17 assists.

True to his word, Messi is perhaps better than ever now and offers a great example of consistency and longevity that set him apart. More than 10 years after breaking through to the first team, little has changed with one of football’s all-time greats. He may be the father of two young boys, winner of an unprecedented five Ballon d’Or trophies and own a tattoo to cover the length of his right arm but his desire for excellence, his ability with a football, his unassuming humility and his defiance in the face of adversity shine bright as ever.

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