Several former Barcelona teammates reflect on Lionel Messi’s early days at the Catalan club, which began when he made his debut against Porto 14 years ago. Despite Barcelona’s focus on technique, they struggled to beat their rivals Espanyol, who were stronger and more experienced. However, the arrival of a tiny 14-year-old Argentine changed everything when he scored three goals in a game. Messi had arrived in Barcelona two years prior, barely speaking a word, and was asked by his coach where he played. He replied quietly that he played forward before sitting in silence. Upon meeting him, one teammate was amazed by his lack of physical development, with Messi standing at less than 1.50m tall.
Valiente recounts how Borrell introduced Messi to the team as a special player who had come from a long way away. This was remarkable because La Masia did not typically recruit players from far away back then. Messi’s exceptional talent was evident even before the players saw him play with a ball. When they finally did see him in action, he was paired with Cesc Fabregas in attack. Fabregas was known for his ability to read the game well and steal the ball despite being out of position in the rondo, a popular training drill. However, Messi showed the team something that they had never seen before. He could move the ball with four or five touches at the same speed that it took them to pass it with one or two touches. The team needed to see him play in a proper match, or else he wouldn’t be able to play in a national category until he turned 18.
The objective of this text is to tell the story of Lionel Messi’s early career at Barcelona. He played his first game in 2001 against Amposta and even scored a goal, but his career was threatened a week later when he broke his fibula away to Tortosa. This injury caused concern for Barcelona, and it was clear that he would not play for the Infantil B team again. After recovering from the injury, he played for the Infantil A side, and there was no sign of his previous injury. He only featured in a few games before being promoted to the Cadete B side in 2002, where he made a real impact. Although he was quiet and reserved in the dressing room, he was a force to be reckoned with in training. His teammates found it frustrating to play against him because he was so quick and skilled. They even tried to give him a couple of hits during training, but he was too fast to be caught.
Robert, in a state of desperation, describes how Messi would effortlessly outsmart defenders by leaving them behind and taking on the next one. He was a machine, always excelling in training, technique, recovery, and matches. Even during one-on-one exercises, he was avoided by center-backs as they knew they stood no chance against him. Pau Torras, the Cadete B goalkeeper who now plays for Cartagena, recounts how Messi would leave everyone speechless with his natural talent without even uttering a word. Robert concludes that stopping Messi would have only been possible if someone pulled out a gun and fired a shot, but even then, he could have evaded the bullet with the ball under his control. All this when Messi was only 13 years old.
However, despite his exceptional talent, Lionel Messi was initially very reserved. It wasn’t until he and his team participated in a tournament in Venice that he began to loosen up and break the ice with his teammates. One of Messi’s classmates and teammates, Victor Vazquez, became close friends with him during this time. It was on this trip that the team started calling him “enano,” meaning “dwarf” in Spanish. This nickname only came about after they established a mutual trust and friendship. Even after Messi made his debut for the first team, he continued to hang out with his former teammates at La Masia, who would jokingly call him “enano” and share a laugh. While Messi may have complained in private about the nickname, he always maintained a positive attitude and remained a great teammate. Roger Giribet, a former teammate and striker, believes that Messi is still the same person he was back then and that they would embrace each other like old friends if they met again today.
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The group of footballers born in 1987 who trained at La Masia together were considered one of the best teams to have ever emerged from the academy. They were coached by Tito Vilanova and Alex Garcia, and graduated to the Cadete A category in 2002-03. However, their time together was short-lived as Cesc Fabregas left for Arsenal at the end of the season, followed by Gerard Pique a year later, joining Manchester United.
Meanwhile, Lionel Messi continued to progress rapidly through the ranks, moving from the Juvenil A side to Barcelona C, then to Barca B within a year. He made his debut for the first team at just 16 years old and became a regular member of the senior squad at 17, playing alongside Ronaldinho, who was then considered the world’s best player.
According to Giribet, who is now the technical secretary at Balaguer, Messi’s teammates were not surprised by his remarkable technical ability, but rather by his exceptional ability to adapt quickly to any given situation. Even a decade ago, Messi had the ability to accelerate and gain momentum in tight spaces without losing the ball. As the years have gone by, he has continued to develop his game and has become even more decisive, showcasing new qualities such as his finishing and his talent for providing the final pass.
Throughout his career, Messi has been able to identify his greatest strengths and leveraged them for the collective good, ensuring he remains on top of his game for over a decade. Giribet believes that Messi is unique in that he is unfazed by pressure, unlike other talented players who crumble under it. Valiente agrees that Messi’s ability to adapt to each stage of his progression was what made him stand out from the rest, while Torras notes that there was never a formula to stop him. As we look back on the last 15 years, it’s clear that Messi’s unstoppable nature has changed the course of Barcelona’s history and cemented his place as a legendary player.