Copy editors: Charlotte Wilkins and Philippe Theise
Editor in Chief: Stéphane Bernstein
Graphics: Creative Department France Médias Monde
Editorial director: Amaury Guibert
All rights reserved © December 2022
It was a remarkable moment in footballing history when Argentina won their third World Cup and Lionel Messi won the one prize he still lacked. The Argentina team was uneven on paper; they even lost a group stage match to minnows Saudi Arabia. But Messi’s genius transformed Argentina into an absolute juggernaut – and, needless to say, he won the Golden Ball for player of the tournament. As well as creating so many Argentina goals, Messi was the second-top goalscorer behind his PSG teammate (and nemesis in the final) Kylian Mbappé.
The World Cup gave Messi another milestone, now somewhat forgotten after the glory of the final: Argentina’s second-round victory over Australia was the 1,000th match of his professional career. The diminutive genius had notched up 172 games for his country and 831 in club football (778 with Barcelona; 53 with PSG). Argentina’s victorious World Cup final was his 1,003rd match.
Messi, who suffered from a growth deficiency as a child, feared that he would never be able to fulfil his dream of becoming a footballer. He undertook hormone therapy in Argentina and continued it in Spain when he joined FC Barcelona’s training centre at the age of 13. Messi even recalls injecting himself. He eventually reached 1m70, according to the website of PSG, the club he joined in August 2021.
Messi said "Diego would be very happy for me" after snatching the record for the most games played in the World Cup from Diego Maradona. The late Argentinian football legend, who played in 21 tournament matches, also coached “La Pulga” – “The Flea”, one of Messi’s nicknames – during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Sunday’s World Cup final against France brought Messi’s total of World Cup games to 26.
It’s been a long journey since the then 17-year-old made his first appearance for Barcelona on October 16, 2004. Now he has just played in his fifth World Cup – and, given his relatively advanced age at 35, everyone wants to know how long he will go on. “I want to keep experiencing a few more matches as world champion […] my career is nearly over because these are my last years,” Messi told journalists after the final.
During an 18-year career, the Argentinian star has won the following titles (national and club): 10 Spanish championships, seven Copa del Rey titles, eight Spanish Super Cups, four Champions League titles, three UEFA Super Cups, three Club World Cups, one Premier League championship, one Champions Trophy, one Copa America, one Finalissima, one World Youth Championship, one Olympic gold medal and, finally, the World Cup title.
Messi has the largest number of Ballon d’Or wins since the 1956 creation of the award for the best footballer in the world. He collected his seventh trophy in 2021, 12 years after his first.
Messi joined the exclusive club of athletes who have earned more than $1 billion in income during their careers in 2020, according to Forbes. A Spanish court ruled that he was guilty of tax fraud and fined the footballer about €2 million in 2016.
The statistics tell their own story: In total, Messi has scored 802 goals, 98 of them for his country. He has scored five times in a match on two occasions, four times on six occasions, and notched up 42 hat-tricks and 150 doubles (including in Sunday’s World Cup).
Born in 1987 in the central Argentinian city of Rosario, Messi is well known for showing prodigious footballing skills even as a young child. But his first cap in 2005 wasn’t such an auspicious beginning. He came on as a sub in the 63rd minute of a friendly against Hungary and was sent off 45 seconds later for a foul on defender Vilmos Vanczak.