Lionel Messi: Remembering La Pulga’s First Year as a Professional

A fresh-faced Messi in 2005
A fresh-faced Messi in 2005 | Luis Bagu/Getty Images

With 25 La Liga goals and 21 La Liga assists, Lionel Messi finished the 2019/20 season as the top-scorer and top assist provider in the Spanish top division, further demonstrating his other worldly footballing ability.

For almost 15 years, Messi has been the star of the show at the Camp Nou and the best player in the world (sorry Cristiano) – collecting a record six Ballons d’Or along the way.

Having won 10 La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and numerous other trophies throughout his career, Messi is regarded by many to be one of, if not the, greatest footballer in the history of the beautiful game, and after watching the Argentine smash every record known to man over the past 15 years – who are we to argue?

Haven’t you always wanted to see how the all time greats started out? Muhammad Ali’s first boxing match, William Shakespeare’s first play, Lionel Messi’s first season in football, well you’re in luck. 90min invite you to hop into our hypothetical Delorean and take a little journey back to where it all began, back when a 17-year-old Messi took to the field for Barcelona for the very first time, and changed football forever.

Having shot through the ranks at Barcelona, Messi began training with Barcelona’s first-team during the 2003/04 season and instantly caught the eye of his elder teammates. French winger Ludovic Giuly even admitted the young Argentine destroyed them in training, insisting the team’s starting centre-backs were even terrified to come up against the prodigy.

Messi was that impressive that Barcelona great Ronaldinho – a man many considered to be the best footballer in the world at the time – admitted to his teammates that he thought the then 16-year-old would go on to become a better player than him.

Barcelona's coach Frank Rijkaard (L) hugBarcelona's coach Frank Rijkaard (L) hug
Frank Rijkaard gave Messi his debut at Barcelona | LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

The Argentine’s first appearance for the club was actually in a friendly against Jose Mourinho’s Porto. Messi would only play the final 15 minutes, but was already showing signs of the player he would go on to become, with Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard saying the following after the game:

“He only had 15 minutes, but he played really well and he had two chances to score. The future he has is promising.”

Mourinho would go on to face the Messi many times over the years as manager of Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter, and while the Special One’s record against Barcelona isn’t great, he credits facing La Pulga for making him a better coach.

This debut was back in 2003, but it wasn’t until October 2004 that Messi finally got a chance in La Liga. In a testament to just how much talent he’d shown in training, numerous first-team players had asked Barcelona’s then-manager Frank Rijkaard to utilise Messi in a competitive game, leading to his debut on 16 October against Espanyol. Traditionally a left winger, Messi was moved to the right so Rijkaard could fit both the youngster and Ronaldinho in his team, and it paid off tenfold.

Ronaldinho, Lionel MessiRonaldinho, Lionel Messi
Ronaldinho could see the potential Messi possessed even at the age of 16 | Denis Doyle/Getty Images

At the time of his debut, Messi – aged 17 years, three months and 22 days – was the youngest ever player to represent Barcelona in an official competition, but despite impressing his teammates and manager alike, the Argentine found gametime hard to come by during his first season in Barcelona’s first team.

Throughout his debut season, Messi only played more than 20 minutes in three of his nine appearances, but with Ronaldinho taking the youngster under his wing, his debut season was a huge learning curve and helped shape what would go on to be a monumental career.

“This award says I’m the best player in the world, but I’m not even the best player at Barcelona. Leo Messi reminds me more of Maradona, both left-footed and short, Messi is the best player in the world, along with Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. For us it is not a surprise. Since he began to come and train with us and we knew we would go down this path. Someday I will explain that I was at the birth of one of the footballing greats: Leo Messi.”

– Ronaldinho – After 2005 Ballon d’Or win

It wasn’t until Messi’s final appearance of the season, the last La Liga game of the season, that he scored his first senior goal for Barcelona, with an audacious chip following a perfectly weighted lob from Ronaldinho. The goal made Messi the youngest goalscorer in Barcelona’s history at the time. The attacker would go on to see his side win their first La Liga title in six years, a feeling he would become all too familiar with in the years to follow as the club dethroned Real Madrid as Spain’s kingpins.

Although it was a fairly uneventful first professional season for Messi, he’d return the year after and improve significantly, with eight goals in 25 appearances – and, as you know, it only got better from there. Despite being in his 16th season as a Barcelona first team player, Messi hasn’t failed to hit double figure goals scored since his second season in the side, a testament to the truly remarkable player he’s gone on to become.