Lionel Messi

20 moments that defined Barcelona maestro

He’s one of the world’s greatest ever players, who appeared destined to be a one-club man. But now Lionel Messi’s relationship with Barcelona looks to be irreparably fractured. CNN looks at 20 defining moments in the career of the football superstar, who mesmerized, broke records and transcended his sport.

Lionel Messi and Barcelona: The highs and lows 0:59

    • 2004

    • Imago/Zuma

      October, 2004

      La Liga debut

      At just 17 years, three months, and 22 days old, Lionel Messi makes his official league debut for Barcelona, coming on as a substitute late in the game. against Espanyol. At the time, he becomes the youngest player to represent the club in an official game after joining the club’s famed La Masia academy in 2000, moving from Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys as a 13-year-old.

    • 2005

    • Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

      August, 2005

      International debut

      Messi makes his debut for Argentina in a friendly against Hungary at the age of 18, coming on in the 63rd minute but receives a red card and is sent off just two minutes later for a perceived elbow against defender Vilmos Vanczak.

    • STR/AFP/Getty Images

      December, 2005

      Golden Boy

      There’s no doubt Barcelona has something special on its hands and the world is starting to take notice as well when he’s named the Golden Boy -- the award for the best young player in Europe.

    • 2006

    • Keystone-SDA/Shutterstock

      March, 2006

      First international goal

      After a rocky start to his international career, Messi scores his first goal for Argentina with a signature run and curled left-foot effort in a friendly defeat to Croatia.

    • Youri Kochetkov/EPA/Shutterstock

      June, 2006

      World Cup debut

      Coming on in the 74th minute against Serbia and Montenegro, Messi becomes the youngest-ever player to represent Argentina at the World Cup. He scores the final goal in a 6-0 win, becoming the youngest scorer at the tournament and the sixth-youngest goalscorer in tournament’s history. However, host Germany knocks Argentina out of the tournament in the quarterfinals.

    • 2007

    • Manu Fernandez/AP

      March, 2007

      First club hat-trick

      Messi is gaining a reputation for being one of the hottest teenagers in world football by now and his three goals against Real Madrid in 2007 turned him into a household name. It’s his first hat-trick for the club and certainly not his last.

    • Bagu Blanco/Getty Images

      April, 2007

      His greatest goal?

      Few goals in the history of football can compare to this one. Messi slaloms his way past multiple Getafe defenders to score perhaps the greatest goal of his career. It strangely mirrors a goal scored by compatriot Diego Maradona against England in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

    • 2008

    • Back Page Images/Shutterstock

      August, 2008

      Olympic gold

      Barcelona initially bans Messi from taking part in the tournament before new club coach Pep Guardiola steps in to allow his participation. Lining up in an all-star Argentina side, featuring fellow youngsters Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria, Argentina wins every match on their way to securing the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

    • 2009

    • Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

      May, 2009

      Champions League success

      Messi had already won the Champions League in 2006 when making his way into the first team but he is the star man in 2009. He finishes the campaign as the tournament's top scorer and nets in the final against Manchester United in a 2-0 win at Rome’s Olympic Stadium. He’s won a career total of four European titles to date.

    • Yoan Valat/EPA/Shutterstock

      December, 2009

      First Ballon d’Or

      Having inspired Barcelona to an historic treble in the same year -- it won the league, domestic cup and Champions League -- Messi is officially named the best player in the world for the first time.

    • 2010

    • John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

      July, 2010

      More World Cup agony

      Mirroring the 2006 World Cup, Germany defeats Argentina in the quarterfinals in 2010, this time by a 4-0 margin. Messi is still named in the Team of the Tournament, though coach and Argentina legend Diego Maradona is sacked after the World Cup. Failing to replicate his performances for Barcelona, and Maradona’s 1986 World Cup heroics, Messi suffers accusations of caring more about club than country.

    • 2011

    • Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images

      August, 2011

      Argentina captain

      After a dismal 2011 Copa America tournament held in Argentina, Messi is made captain of the national team under new manager Alejandro Sabella. The appointment surprises many as Messi had come under criticism for what some saw as sub-par performances at the tournament.

    • 2012

    • David Ramos/Getty Images

      March, 2012

      Barcelona scoring record

      Goals just keep coming for the magician at club level and, at just 24, he breaks Barcelona’s scoring record previously held by Cesar Rodriguez. His first goal against Granada pulls him equal on 232, before his second and third break it.

    • 2014

    • AMA/Corbis/Getty Images

      July, 2014

      World Cup defeat

      Argentina loses 1-0 to Germany in the World Cup final after a Mario Götze winner in extra-time. Messi begrudgingly accepts the Golden Ball award for player of the tournament.

    • The World Of Sports Sc/Shutterstock

      November, 2014

      La Liga scoring record

      Records keep falling at the feet of Messi. He breaks Telmo Zarra's La Liga record of 251 goals. Once again, Messi produces a hat-trick against Sevilla to pull ahead in the all-time rankings. He currently has 444 goals and 10 league titles to his name.

    • 2016

    • Icon Sportswire/AP

      June, 2016

      Copa America defeat

      Messi’s goal in the Copa America Centenario quarterfinals establishes him as Argentina’s all-time leading goalscorer, with 54 goals. However, having lost the previous year’s Copa America final to Chile, the 2016 edition finishes the same way. Messi announces his international retirement.

    • Gabriel Rossi/LatinContent/Getty Images

      August, 2016

      Retirement reversal

      After a short campaign for Messi to reverse his decision to retire, which included pleas from Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri and a newly unveiled statue of Messi by Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, the Barca star chooses to continue playing for La Albiceleste, saying: “My love for my country and this shirt is too great.”

    • 2019

    • Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

      August, 2019


      After a forgettable 2018 World Cup, Argentina finishes third in the following year’s Copa America. However, Messi is sent off in the 37th minute of the third-place playoff. He blames his dismissal on his previous criticism of the tournament’s pitches and refereeing. He refuses to accept his third-place medal, and receives a three-month ban from international football as well as a $50,000 fine.

    • Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

      December, 2019

      Record Ballon d’Or wins

      Messi’s club statistics over his career can only be challenged by one man, Cristiano Ronaldo. The pair practically share the Ballon d’Or award for a decade but, in 2019, Messi wins it for a record sixth time. Ronaldo is still on five.

    • 2020

    • Manu Fernandez/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

      August, 2020

      Barca humiliated

      A tumultuous season for Messi reaches boiling point in the Champions League quarterfinals against Bayern Munich. He’s part of Barca team embarrassingly beaten 8-2 in what could be his last game in a Barcelona shirt.