Advent Day 19 – a young Lionel Messi, footballing memories made forever

By Lewis Steele 

Throughout the Advent Calendar series here at 5WFootball, we’ve delved into the wonderfully glistening careers of many greats. Some have been so good that one article wouldn’t do them justice, so we have just looked at one aspect of their careers. That’s what we will do here, with Lionel Messi and the number 19. The GOAT wore the 19 shirt for just two seasons, but those two campaigns set in motion a trail of events that would establish Lionel Messi as the greatest footballer to ever grace our planet. Another theme of the series has looked at a particular part under a microscope from an outside perspective, like Westworld, but like the HBO blockbuster, let’s leap inside that world and have a look at what Leo Messi means to me.

Let’s start with my trip to the Camp Nou…

I remember vividly, myself, as a child, on holiday in Spain, visiting the Camp Nou. I was in awe of the great stadium. They were relaying the turf on that day so my dad got given a bit of grass which he took home and put in our garden – one of many reasons that my back garden was described as ‘the hallowed turf’ during kickabouts with pals in high school. I walked round the stadium, had a picture with a cardboard cut out of Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o, which of course I told my school mates was a real picture, they just happened to be walking around in their full kits and stop for a picture with a 10-year-old lad and his family.

Another memory I have from that day was being bought a shirt from the gift shop after. This wasn’t just any gift shop, it wasn’t like the small ones you see outside English stadiums with a few shirts and a couple of mugs. No. It was two floors of football, mainly Barcelona, but just football in general, the size of a Primark store but without the clutter of Star Wars pyjamas or horrible V-neck t-shirts. From that store, I was treated to a football shirt, with Messi #19 on the back. Still to this day, I think the reason was that I signed him on a FIFA career mode due to his sky-high potential, but then again if I did that I may have ended up with Bojan Krkic’s shirt, which I’m sure I wouldn’t admit to.

Sometimes, watching football, certain players give you a little buzz inside. It doesn’t happen much. In fact, potentially once a season. I’m pretty neutral about it too, Fernando Torres’ exploits in Liverpool’s silvery-grey away kit when they nearly won the league gave me a buzz. As did Kylian Mbappé in the World Cup with his dazzling runs destroying Argentina. Lionel Messi in his early years certainly did, more than once. His solo goals, his dazzling feet, his unique finish that made chipping the goalkeeper popular, everything about him – Messi in that 19 shirt gave myself, and surely millions of others, a tingle.

Messi created many spectacular moments wearing 19, as many started to realise that yes, he could become the best in the world one day. Not one moment beats that goal against Getafe in 2007.

Commentators get paid to illustrate what is going on to listeners or viewers around the world. Like with Messi’s best mate Sergio Agüero‘s famous goal, the words can live with you forever. Lionel Messi’s goal against Getafe in 2007 had commentators screaming, shouting, screaching, searching for breathe, searching for words.

They dragged the cry of GOOOOOOOOOOOL! until their lungs gave no more. Journalists that were paid to put words down failed, for they had ran out of superlatives. One newspaper led with the same question they asked of another great Argentine Diego Maradona back in 1986: “What planet did you come from?” The goal was, indeed, reminiscent of Diego Maradona’s slalom run and finish against England at Mexico City’s Aztec Stadium in 1986.

Except, this time, it was a new kid on the block. It was the new Argentine. It was Lionel Messi, wearing numero  diecinueve.

60 metres, 13 touches, 6 opponents beat including the goalkeeper – GOL! “Messi scores Maradona’s goal”, said four of Spain’s main dailies including Marca, Mundo Deportivo, and more.

The Telegraph debated which one was better:

Screen Shot 2018-12-19 at 10.43.07

This is just one of many great Messi goals, but for me, it’s  certainly in the top three. It may not be the best in terms of when and where it happened – yes it was at the Camp Nou, but it was only in the Copa del Rey. But in terms of sheer quality, it’s up there.

Attempting to define the best goal of Messi’s career would be as frustrating as trying to calculate which structure built by architect Antoni Gaudi is the greatest – they are all artistically beautiful in their own right. One thing is for sure, Messi turned the Camp Nou into his own Parc Guell, dancing through defenders at the age of nineteen like he owned the place.

That goal was just one of many moments that have set Messi ahead as one of the greatest in history. Since those couple of years following his debut, football theorists and journalists have used Messi as a precedent, a benchmark.

Kylian Mbappé in the World Cup was compared to Messi as a teenager. Potentially rightfully so, we shall see. Like Maradona, there has been thousands of apparent ‘new Messi’ kids on the block, but none have lived up to the billing.

Sid Lowe wrote about this in 2007, before Messi was big, saying that the 473rd New Maradona is worth every last drop of hype. He said: “Barcelona’s Leo Messi may be the 473rd New Maradona, but he’s the only one to be named after a Mr Man and the only one really worthy of the title. You can forget the Little Donkey, the Rabbit, the Clown and all the other great pretenders, it’s the Flea with the fast feet and fabulous control who gets closest to el Diego. He may not have the same the strutting confidence or the big mouth – in fact, he makes whispering Ted Lowe sound like a town crier – but there’s definitely something about Messi.”

Lots will come by and claim to be the next best thing, but none will surpass Lionel Messi and what he did as a teenager wearing that shirt.

Wearing 19, Messi created headlines to challenge Maradona’s reign as best Argentine of all time, he set a precedent for all teenagers to look up to, and most importantly he captured the hearts of the watching world, including me.

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