Leo Messi, also known as Lionel Messi, is an Argentine-born football (soccer) player who has won a record-breaking seven Ballon d’Or honors as the best male player in the world (2009–12, 2015, 2019, and 2021). His full name is Lionel Andrés Messi. He assisted Argentina in winning the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Messi began playing football as a youngster and joined the youth squad of Rosario-based top-division football club Newell’s Old Boys in 1995. Elite clubs on both sides of the Atlantic were drawn to Messi’s extraordinary abilities. Messi moved to Barcelona with his family when he was 13 years old and started playing for FC Barcelona’s under-14 squad. For the youth squad, he scored 21 goals in 14 games. He advanced fast through the higher-level teams, and at the age of 16, he made his unofficial FC Barcelona debut in a friendly game.
Messi, who was 17 at the time, set a record for being the youngest player and goal scorer in La Liga, Spain’s top football league, during the 2004–05 season. He was strong, balanced, and adaptable on the field despite being only 5 feet 7 inches (1.7 meters) tall and weighing 148 pounds (67 kg). With his left foot, his quickness, and his ability to control the ball precisely, Messi was a natural passer who could easily weave through densely defended areas. He received Spanish citizenship in 2005, which was received with mixed emotions by Barcelona’s fervently Catalan fans. The Champions League (the European club tournament) was won by Messi and Barcelona the following year.
Over the years, Messi’s game continued to develop quickly, and by 2008, he was one of the most dominant players in the world, coming in second place to Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or vote. With the club’s first “treble”—winning three major European club championships in a single season—Messi closed off an outstanding 2008–09 campaign by assisting FC Barcelona in winning the Champions League, La Liga, and the Copa del Rey. He beat Ronaldo by a record margin in the voting for the Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s world player of the year during that season, scoring 38 goals in 51 games. Messi scored 34 goals in domestic matches for Barcelona in 2009–10, helping them win La Liga once more. As the top scorer in Europe, he won the Golden Shoe title and another Ballon d’Or (from 2010 to 2015, the trophy was known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or).
Messi led Barcelona in scoring during the 2014–15 season with 43 goals, earning him his sixth world player of the year award. Messi also assisted Barcelona in winning another treble. In 2015–16, he scored 41 goals for Barcelona across all leagues as the team won the La Liga championship and the Copa del Rey. With 53 goals for Barcelona in 2016–17, Messi set a new record and helped the team win the Copa del Rey. He led Barcelona to another La Liga and Copa del Rey double in 2017–18 with 45 goals. Messi led Barcelona to a second La Liga title in 2018–19 with 51 goals across all domestic tournaments. He was crowned FIFA’s best male player of the year and won his sixth Ballon d’Or of his career in the latter part of 2019. Barcelona won the Copa del Rey in the 2020–21 season, making it Messi’s sixth career triumph. When he became a free agent in 2021, financial difficulties that were partly brought on by La Liga regulations made it difficult for him to re-sign with Barcelona. He departed the team after breaking numerous records, most notably becoming the league’s all-time leading goal scorer (474). Later in 2021, Messi joined Paris St.-Germain (PSG), where he was teammates with Neymar and Kylian Mbappé and won a second Ballon d’Or. In each of his two seasons with the team, he contributed to PSG’s Ligue 1 championship. Messi joined Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami in 2023.
Despite his dual citizenship and professional success in Spain, Messi’s ties with his homeland remained strong, and he was a key member of various Argentine national teams from 2005. He played on Argentina’s victorious 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship squad, represented the country in the 2006 World Cup, and scored two goals in five matches as Argentina swept to the gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Messi helped Argentina reach the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals, where the team was eliminated by Germany for the second consecutive time in World Cup play. At the 2014 World Cup, Messi put on a dazzling display, scoring four goals and almost single-handedly propelling an offense-deficient Argentina team through the group stage and into the knockout rounds, where Argentina then advanced to the World Cup final for the first time in 24 years. Argentina lost that contest 1–0 to Germany, but Messi nevertheless won the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player. During the 2016 Copa América Centenario tournament, he netted his 55th international goal to break Gabriel Batistuta’s Argentine scoring record.
Argentina celebrating its 2022 World Cup victory
Messi stated that he was leaving the national team after Argentina lost in the Copa final, the country’s third straight finals failure in a major competition. However, Messi’s brief “retirement” lasted less than two months before he made an announcement about his return to the Argentine team. He aided an outclassed Argentine team in the 2018 World Cup to the knockout round, where they lost to eventual champion France in their opening game. Messi led Argentina to triumph in the competition two years after they placed third at the 2019 Copa América, and he was given the Golden Ball trophy. At the 2022 World Cup, he continued to be successful. He led Argentina to the finals, where he assisted in Argentina’s victory over France with two goals and a successful penalty kick in the shootout. Messi was the first male player to win the Golden Ball twice, winning it at the World Cup.
Other activities and legal issues
Messi was one of the most well-known athletes in the world off the field. He was a very successful product pitchman, particularly for the sportswear firm Adidas, in addition to earning a football wage that was frequently, together with Ronaldo’s, one of the two highest athlete salaries in all professional sports. Messi and his father, who was in charge of managing his son’s finances, were charged with tax fraud in 2013 and accused of using offshore shell companies to evade paying €4.2 million in Spanish taxes on endorsement income. The two were nonetheless compelled to go to trial in 2016 for the accusations, even after paying the Spanish state €5 million. Messi and his father were each given suspended 21-month prison sentences in July of that year, along with fines of €2 million and €1.5 million, respectively (first-time offenders in Spain receive suspended sentences if the length is under two years).