The Profile Dossier: Lionel Messi, the World's Greatest Footballer
"It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success.”
There's good, there's great, there's exceptional — and then there's Lionel Messi.
Thanks to his speed, control, and mesmerizing ability to shoot the ball into the net, Messi has become a legend. Not only is he largely considered to be the world's finest soccer player, he is also the best-paid. His four-year contract with FC Barcelona is worth $675 million, which means he earns up to $168.5 million a season.
Messi has been playing soccer since he was in kindergarten. When his mother would send him off to run errands, he took a ball with him. If he didn't have one, he would make one out of plastic bags. Nothing stood in his way.
In 1997, people began noticing that Messi appeared tiny on the field. At 10 years old, he looked nearly two years younger than his teammates. The following year, doctors diagnosed him with a growth hormone deficiency and prescribed him nightly hormone injections. "I had a growth problem," Messi says, "but that never stopped me from playing."
Messi was the smallest boy on the field, but he learned how to be faster, smoother, and more agile than his larger competitors. "His reflexes haven't changed," Messi's dad Jorge says. "He was always so short, but so fast. It was very difficult for another boy to take the ball away."
At 5-foot-7, Messi continues to sprint past his competitors and score laser-precise goals time and time again. To the world, Messi's health troubles were career-ending. To him, it was just another obstacle he had to overcome on his road to greatness.
“You have to fight to reach your dream," he says. "You have to sacrifice and work hard for it.”
On becoming the world's quietest superstar: Muhammad Ali spun poetry and stung like a bee. Michael Jordan trash-talked and hit nothing but net. LeBron James said he'll never shut up and dribble, then shot buzzer-beating daggers. They spoke to us. Messi, whose global presence rivals any athlete's, does not. Here's how he became the world's quietest superstar.
On his fondest memory: Messi is most proud of his 2008 Olympic gold medal. One of his fondest memories is sitting in the cafeteria at Olympic Village when a tall American athlete sat next to him. "Hola," the man said, grinning. "Soy Kobe." With smiles and small talk, Kobe Bryant worked his way back to Messi, then pulled him aside. "We chatted for a while," Messi says. "His Spanish is very good." As Bryant walked away, he turned back to cast his vote in the great debate. "Messi," he called out, "You are the best!"
On Messi's impossible technique: This is an insanely detailed breakdown of Messi's impossible excellence. The writer studied nearly every aspect of Messi’s game, down to a touch-by-touch level: his shooting and scoring production; where he shoots from; how often he sets up his own shots; what kind of kicks he uses to make those shots; his ability to take on defenders; how accurate his passes are; and so much more. The conclusion? His technique shouldn't work ... yet it does.
On his rise to superstardom: "Statistics and history go out the window when he's playing." This documentary details Messi's remarkable rise to soccer phenomenon even though he had so much working against him. Here's how his life experiences made Messi inimitable.
On his World Cup career: In this mini-documentary, we take a look back at Messi's FIFA World Cup career — including his debut at Germany in 2006, playing under Diego Maradona at South Africa in 2010, his Adidas Golden Ball-winning performance at Brazil in 2014, and his most recent global finals at Russia in 2018.
On how fatherhood changed him: Messi used to take losses very personally. "When Thiago was born, I learned that the priorities weren't the results of a game," he says. "Of course, it still hurts me a lot to lose, but I get home and I see my wife and my children, and the pain goes away a little." In this interview, he explains how becoming a father has taught him to how to better handle winning and losing.
TECHNIQUES TO TRY.
Don't give way to complacency: It's a sad day, Messi says, when a player thinks there are no more improvements to be made. “Every year, I try to grow as a player and not get stuck in a rut," he adds. "I try to improve my game in every way possible. But that trait is not something I’ve worked on, it’s part of me.” Messi's desire to fight complacency while consistently getting better has been one of the biggest determinants of his success. He has trained himself to "want more, always be my top critic, and accept both the good and the bad."
Be precise in how you approach life: When Messi spends time with his family, he cuts out all outside distractions. When he scores goals, he scores with top-level precision. “In football as in watchmaking, talent and elegance mean nothing without rigor and precision," he says. Messi has a motto that goes like this: "Live life with precision on and off the field." In other words, you should approach your personal and professional life with the same amount of intentionality and passion.
Doing business with family can be a double-edged sword: Messi has entrusted his immediate family with his business and professional affairs. His father has been his agent since Messi was 14, his oldest brother handles his daily schedule and publicity, and his mother and other brother manage his charitable organization, the Leo Messi Foundation. Messi needed people he could trust who had his best interests at heart. But that blind trust has gotten him in trouble. In 2016, he and his father were found guilty of tax fraud and were fined €252,000. Messi told the judge: "I just played football. I signed the contracts because I trusted my dad and the lawyers and we had decided that they would take charge of those things." No matter who your business partners, you need to be vigilant about the documents you're signing.
Success isn't sexy: The overnight success story is a myth. Messi has been playing soccer every single day since he was 5 years old, but we want to turn a blind eye to the failures, the relentless persistence, and the excruciatingly long practices. “I start early and I stay late, day after day, year after year," he says. "It took me 17 years and 114 days to be an overnight success.” He's referring to October 2004 when he made his professional debut for FC Barcelona. Recognize that there is a difference between overnight success and early success. Although Messi was only 17 years old when he became a professional footballer, his road to success was neither easy nor straightforward.
Build a life, not a mirage: Messi and his wife Antonella were childhood sweethearts in Rosario, Argentina. They met when they were five years old, and began dating in their early 20s. They are now married with three kids. Fortunately, Messi learned early in his life that the outcome of a game isn't what made him truly happy. To him, happiness is spending time with his wife and kids. "There are more important things in life than winning or losing a game," he says. If you have the right values, you recognize that no amount of money or fame can fulfill you — true contentment lies in the simple pleasures of everyday life.
QUOTES TO REMEMBER.
“You have to fight to reach your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it.”
“The best decisions aren’t made with your mind, but with your instinct.”
“I have fun like a child in the street. When the day comes when I’m not enjoying it, I will leave football.”
“You can overcome anything, if and only if you love something enough.”
"It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success.”
“Goals are only important if they win games.”
“I start early, and I stay late, day after day after day.”