FACTBOX

MESSI is blessed with the same masterly ball control and burst of pace as the great Diego Maradona, and his goal against Getafe in a King's Cup match in April 2007 was almost a replica of the former Argentina captain's spectacular solo effort against England in the 1986 World Cup.

MESSI is blessed with the same masterly ball control and burst of pace as the great Diego Maradona, and his goal against Getafe in a King's Cup match in April 2007 was almost a replica of the former Argentina captain's spectacular solo effort against England in the 1986 World Cup.

l He was born in Rosario, Santa Fe, on June 24, 1987.

EARLY CAREER

l Joined Barcelona as a 13-year-old in 2000 and shone in the youth ranks before then-coach Frank Rijkaard gave him his senior debut at the age of 16 in a friendly against Porto in November 2003.

l Led Argentina to glory at the 2005 World Youth Championship in Netherlands, scoring two penalties in a 2-1 final victory over Nigeria. Like Maradona before him, he ended the tournament with the best player and top scorer trophies.

l Became a Spanish citizen in September 2005.

HITTING THE HEIGHTS

l He made his debut for Argentina in a friendly against Hungary in August 2005, the same opponents Maradona made his debut against as a 16-year-old. Messi though, was sent off less than a minute after going on as a substitute, for elbowing a defender who had pulled his shirt.

l A bureaucratic argument over whether he could be classed as a European Union player meant he did not represent Barcelona in a competitive game until October 2005. He scored six goals in 17 appearances as the club won La Liga for the second year in a row.

l Faced a race against time to make the 2006 World Cup and played only a bit-part role in the tournament. Coach Jose Pekerman was heavily criticised for leaving him on the bench as Argentina were knocked out in the quarterfinals by hosts Germany after a penalty shoot-out.

l Missed three months of 2006-07 season after breaking a bone in his foot but returned to score a brilliant hat-trick against Real Madrid in a 3-3 draw at the Nou Camp in March.

l Messi was sidelined by injury for six weeks early in 2008 after tearing a muscle in his left thigh in a Champions League match against Celtic.

l Led Argentina to the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and came second in the 2008 Fifa World Player of the Year vote behind Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo, who was then with Manchester United but is now at Real Madrid.

l In May 2009 he helped Barcelona win the Champions League final, heading the second goal in a 2-0 victory over Manchester United that sealed his club's third European Cup title after their triumphs in 1992 and 2006.

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