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Lionel Messi: The New Maradona

Any player dubbed the 'new Maradona' is bound to face a mountain of expectation. But when the epithet is bestowed by the great man himself most players would crumble under the pressure. Not so Lionel Andres Messi. Since he was a teenager, the Argentine superstar has proved that he is more than a match for his illustrious predecessor.

Barcelona brought the extraordinarily gifted Messi to Spain from Argentinian club Newell's Old Boys in 2000 at the tender age of 13. He proved a phenomenon in Barcelona's famous La Masía youth academy, and it wasn't long before he broke his way into the first team set up.

When he made his debut in October 2004 he became the youngest player to appear in La Liga. He soon developed an almost telepathic understanding with Ronaldinho and just as quickly became an idol of the Nou Camp faithful.

While Messi made his Barcelona breakthrough during Frank Rijkaard's tenure, it is under Pep Guardiola that he has reached truly stratospheric heights. 2011-12 saw him score a jaw-dropping 72 goals in a Barcelona shirt, becoming the club's all-time leading goalscorer in the process. This year has also seen him win his third consecutive Ballon d'Or award. Never before has a player as young as 24 dominated world football so completely.

 

As a player Messi is peerless, possessing astonishing awareness, touch, passing and shooting skills. But it is his ability to run at defenders that marks him out as the true inheritor of the Maradona crown.

Indeed, one of his two goals for Barcelona during a Spanish Cup semi-final against Getafe in 2007 bore an uncanny resemblance to Maradona's famous 'goal of the century' against England in the 1986 World Cup. Afterwards the press dubbed him 'Messidona.' So frequently does he score stunning goals, that that famous strike already seems a distant memory.

With Barcelona Messi has won five Spanish league titles, three Champions Leagues and two Copa del Reys to go with a hatful of individual accolades. His relentless goalscoring feats have steered Barcelona through the most successful period in their history.

Leo is also the focal point of the Argentina national team. He has featured for for his country at every major tournament since the 2006 World Cup, and won a runners-up medal at the 2007 Copa América. A World Cup with Argentina is the only major absence his CV, but, at 24, he has time on his side.

Messi celebrates claiming the Champions League trophy with his Barcelona teammates after beating Manchester United in the 2009 final.
Messi celebrates claiming the Champions League trophy with his Barcelona teammates after beating Manchester United in the 2009 final.
Lionel Messi showcases his exemplary ball-juggling skills prior to Barcelona's La Liga tie with Granada CF in March 2012.
Messi is surrounded by players during Argentina's 2010 World Cup showdown with South Korea.
Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero present their Olympic gold medals after winning with Argentina at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Messi embraces Maradonna after progressing to the quater finals of the 2010 South Africa World Cup.
Messi holds off Thomas Muller at the 2010 World Cup.
Messi tussles with Cristiano Ronaldo during Manchester United's 2008 Champions League semi-final clash.
Messi in action against Panathinaikos in the Champions League tie at the Nou Camp.

Date: 02/11/2005
Messi tries to take the ball past Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez during a Copa del Rey match at the Nou Camp.

Date: 31/01/2008
Messi celebrates claiming the Champions League trophy with his Barcelona teammates after beating Manchester United in the 2009 final.
 
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