He’s small and strong, and thus, fast on his feet. He’s short enough to get under the skin of his greatest opponents and agile enough to zoom past them on the field and score an unsuspecting goal for his team. He is “The Flea”: FC Barcelona forward and arguably the best player in the world, Lionel Messi.
But it seems as if what is now one of his biggest strengths was once a hindrance to his dream.
Lionel Messi was born on June 24, 1987 in Central Argentina to Jorge Messi and Ceclia Cuccittini, the third of four children. Growing up, Messi was constantly surrounded by love of football, as his father, older brothers, and cousins were all fans and players of the sport. At the young age of four, he joined Grandoli, a local football club, where his own father coached him. Two years later, he transferred to Newell’s Old Boys, where he scored almost 500 goals during the time he spent with the club. As amazing as his stint with the club was, it was also during time that Messi’s future as a professional football player would be threatened.
When he was 10, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. Adrían Coria, Newell’s Old Boys youth coach at the time Messi was part of the team, said, “When you saw him you would think: this kid can’t play ball. He’s a dwarf, he’s too fragile, too small. But immediately you’d realise that he was born different, that he was a phenomenon and that he was going to be something impressive.” It was because of Messi’s passion and apparent promise that his family sought for treatment.
Messi showing off his football skills during his eight birthday. (telegraph.co.uk)
Because treatment was so expensive, his father’s health insurance only covered two years worth of shots that cost at least $1500 a month—far from what the family could afford. In order to continue treatment, the family moved to Spain so Messi could join Barcelona, who agreed to pay for his medical treatment while he played for them.
“Every night I had to stick a needle into my legs, night after night after night, every day of the week, and this over a period of three years,” shared Messi in an interview with The Telegraph. “I was so small, they said that when I went onto the pitch, or when I went to school, I was always the smallest of all. It was like this until I finished the treatment and I then started to grow properly.”
The treatment proved to be effective, and soon, so did the transfer. To date, Messi has scored 281 goals for Barca (in official matches), making him their all-time highest goalscorer. He was the first player to score 200 goals by the age of 24, and continues to be the only player that has been the highest goalscorer in the Champions League for four consecutive years. He currently holds the UEFA record for most goals scored in a game, as well as most hat tricks.
Since the inception of the FIFA Ballon d’Or award, Messi was first to take home the gold, which he then continued to do in the next two years. In the last two years, Messi has also gone home with both silvers. He also has three European Golden Shoes to his name.
But beyond the feats, what really is remarkable is the positivity Messi showed throughout everything. “I think being smaller than the rest allowed me to be a bit quicker and more agile,” he shared. Smaller, yes, but truly nothing short of spectacular.