9th minute. The ball goes to the right flank and a player in yellow jersey chips it in high arch behind opposing defenders. Blond midfielder gets it perfectly on his chest and bangs it home.
The final attack of the first half. The same player who started the first action has a free-kick, between 40 or 50 meters from the goal. Perfect long ball, now his other teammate has the ball in the box and makes it 2:2 before the final whistle of the first half.
72nd minute. A free-kick at the left side of the field. Again far away from the goal. But once again we have a perfect assist, the defender gets it right on the head and heads the ball home. It’s 3:2, the visiting team wins and one man completes three-peat of assists for the 5th time in his career.
Yes, we are talking about Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s win over Betis in Seville on February 9th. Blaugrana won 3:2, and once again the Argentinian magician made the headlines. Football God, an Alien, The Artist, Greatest Of All Time.
The plaudits were there. But it could have been a largely different story.
A KID THAT NEARLY QUIT
Lionel Messi was born on 24 June 1987, as a third of four children. His parents worked in factories, and life was tough. He was born in Rosario and immediately fell in love with the local club Newell’s Old Boys. Finally, at the age of six, he would be included in Newell’s academy, and he impressed.
He scored goals regularly, and his team was nearly unbeatable. Opponents called that generation “The Machine of 87“. this is how good they were.
Messi himself scored more than 500 goals for the team in six years he had played for the youth side of his boyhood club. But at the age of 8 hard news hit the Messi family. At that time Messi was a tiny boy – his height was below 130 centimeters, and he was diagnosed with a growth hormone disorder (GHD).
It is often called idiopathic short stature, but there are problems that go beyond being shorter than average. GHD causes skin and teeth problems, poor vision and low immunity. Treatment was simple but really expensive.
Therapy consists of injections of human growth hormone. It’s not painful, but at a cost of 1.000 dollars per month, his family couldn’t afford this.
Newell’s firstly agreed to pay for the medical expenses but then renounced this decision. Working-class family at the end of the ’90s in Argentina couldn’t nearly make enough money to cover the expenses. And not only was the football career on the line but a normal life as well.
River Plate and Boca thought of bringing little Lionel to their academies and paying for the injections, but they also didn’t do it. And even if Messi was banging lots of goals at youth level, and regularly performing at half times of Newel’s games, people that thought that he could make it on a senior level were rare.
“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 realize that he was born different, that he was a phenomenon and that he was going to be something impressive,” said Adrian Coria, Newell’s youth coach.
THE NAPKIN THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
But, one napkin changed it all. Little Lionel’s life, one club’s history, and the game of football in it’s entirety.
Barcelona scouts had an eye on Messi, and on 17 September 2000, they brought him and Jorge Messi, his father, to Barcelona. It was sunny Sunday, and it turns out – the biggest Sunday in Barca’s history.
Charles Rexach, a man that has been in the club for half a century as a player, coach, assistant coach, and presidential adviser went down in Barca’s history for none of these accomplishments, but for a couple of sentences written on a napkin.
“I, Charly Rexach, in my capacity as technical secretary for FC Barcelona, and despite the existence of some opinions against it, commit to signing Lionel Messi as long as the conditions agreed are met, ” was written on the napkin. It was 14 December 2000, and it was Lionel’s first contract with Barca.
Rexach was impressed by this young kid, and he pushed the club to sign him, but it wasn’t cheap. We must know that in 2000 signing 13 year-olds wasn’t a popular thing and foreign players that young couldn’t compete in junior leagues of Spain.
Also, Barca would have to pay an expensive treatment and find a job for Jorge Messi.
“His dad was getting angry and said Leo was leaving,” Rexach later told the sports daily AS.
“HE IS LIKE DIEGO”
Those were the words that impressed Rexach. And those words came from Josep Maria Minguella, the man who 20 years earlier brought Diego Armando Maradona to Barcelona. He knew what was he talking about.
When Messi and his father arrived, Minguella and Rexach put them up in the Hotel Plaza, at the foot of Montjuïc, where escalators head up the hill to the Olympic stadium.
Day after that Messi trained with impressive La Masia team consisting of Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique. All eyes were on that little kid, rising up to just over 130 centimeters, he created havoc on the court.
After Rexach watched Lionel’s first game, he was certain that Barca got to sign him. But many people from the club opposed this.
€50.000 that Jorge Messi asked and the cost of the therapy was a lot of money, for a tiny 13-year-old.
The club was having a nightmare season, and president Joan Gaspart was under fire. Luis Figo went to Real Madrid, and very few people thought that Lionel Messi was a priority. A kid that would bring silverware to Barcelona once again. To be honest, only Minguella and Rexach thought that.
Barca was stalling with a contract, and Jorge Messi said to Rexach that he plans to leave, because Real Madrid and a bunch of other clubs were interested. Then Rexach took the things into his own hand.
He couldn’t afford to lose this kid. He grabbed a napkin from the table and wrote Lionel’s first contract.
PER ASPERA AD BARCA
Charles Rexach fought for his kid. It wasn’t easy at all. Messi had to inject human growth hormone injections in his legs and had to quit fizzy drinks and chocolate because he was vomiting at every match.
He impressed at youth sides, but could he do it on a senior level? To make things worse, the club was on the longest trophyless run since the 1930s, and they needed the savior.
When Ronaldinho shined under Rijkaard, they taught that Brazilian was The Chosen One. But in fact, the kid that began growing and progressed steadily through the academy ranks was the savior.
“It was not very difficult for me to come to Barcelona. I adapted quickly but my family did not. My siblings wanted to go back and they did. I was left alone with my father and he asked me ‘What should we do?’ I told him ‘I want to stay,” recalled Messi in a later interview.
He was determined, and when his mother and three siblings returned to Argentina, he worked even harder. He had something to prove, and something to fight for. In December 2001 he signed a new contract, on a proper paper, not a napkin this time.
He finished his growth hormone therapy when he was 14, and then his career skyrocketed. Cadete, Juvenil A, Juvenil B, Barcelona C, Barcelona B and then the first team. He managed to get this path done in just a year and a half.
It was November 2003, and Barcelona went to Porto to play a friendly game with a side that was coached by Jose Mourinho. Frank Rijkaard asked for some junior players to fill in, and Messi was one of these players. He impressed right away and got his first professional contract in February the following year.
It was 16 October 2004, and Barcelona played Espanyol in the local derby. It was played at the Olimpic Stadium, near the hotel Messi stayed in with his father the first time he flew to Catalonia.
In 82nd minute Deco was off, and Messi stepped on the pitch. He was the youngest Barcelona player since Paulino Alcántara made his debut in 1912. But El Mundo Deportivo just noted that he was on the pitch for a very short period and that he did not impact the game enough to be awarded a grade for performance.
Barca won the title and ended the silverware drought that season. Messi went on to become the Greatest Of All Time. He won so many things, that it would be monotonous to list them all here. Up to this date, he scored more than 700 senior goals.
And he was “that small kid”. “El mudo” (the mute one) in Barca’s youth ranks. Kid with hormone deficiency. He was Rexach gamble. A gamble that launched Rexach in history books.
A Fenomeno of Lionel Messi: The case study for becoming a millionaire
Messi is now one of the richest sportspersons ever. His net worth is estimated at about 400 million dollars, and his current salary is €50 million a year. Through contracts and endorsements, he earned around €1 billion in his career.
And the money started flowing in February 2004 when his first pro contract was signed. He was paid €78.000 per year.
Let’s say that Fenomeno was there at the start of the century, and young 13-year-old from Rosario wanted to raise €72.000 for his therapy and planned to renounce 1% of his salary in next ten years. If you invested a whole amount and €50.000 that Jorge Messi got from Barca for signing the first contract that would add up to €122.000 investment.
Messi earned €39.000 from his first contract, up until signing another one in June 2005. You would get €390 from him from the first contract. The second one was worth €1 million a year and lasted up until September. In those three months Messi earned €300.000 – so you would get another €3.000.
In September 2005 he got his salary doubled to €2.4 million a year. and it ran until March 2007. That’s another €3.6 million for Messi and €36.000 for you.
In March he signed for 4.8 million a year, and the contract ran for a year and four months summing Argentinian earnings for €6.4 million. Your 1% would then be €64.000.
In July 2008. he signed for €7.8 million a year and a new contract was signed in September 2009. That contract gave Messi €9.1 million.
In September he signed for €12 million a year, and that was his longest contract. It ran until February 2013 – for 3 years and 4 months. Messi earned exactly €40 million from this contract.
And you would get a whooping €400.000 euros from this! His next contract was signed for €16 million a year, and this in February 2014. you would get €160.000 from this investment.
That would be the end of 10 year Messi contract with you and Fenomeno. Up until now, you would get €754.390. And that’s just from salary, and where are the endorsements for example lifetime deal with Addidas worth €12 million a year?
And not only that – a vast majority of Fenomeno players give up 5% of their salary in contract with Fenomeno. What would this mean in Messi’s case?
This would make you a millionaire, your investment would give you €3.771.950.You would break even March 2007 – just three years after the first pro contract that Messi signed.
Maybe in our ranks, you’ll find a new Messi. And not just that you will get a profit from your investment, but you’ll make some kids dream come true.
In a couple of years time, you could be at home, with a bottle of beer, watching Premier League and saying – I helped this kid. This was my gamble, gamble that made me famous.