When Lionel Messi scored his first goal 15 years ago
Since then Lionel Messi debuted with Barcelona in the 2004-05 season, has scored goals as naturally as breathing.
The Argentine now has more than 700 goals, including 29 this season, both for his club Barcelona and for his country, and it does not seem that he will lose his goal boots before. But his epic career had to have a starting point and it was on May 1, 2005, exactly 15 years ago, that Messi roared into the conscience of football fans when he scored his first goal against Albacete in Camp Nou .
Imagine, the then Albacete, who will soon be relegated, should not have been a rival for the eventual champions: Barcelona ended its six-year wait for the league title that season, but they were proving to be a tough nut to crack at night. It was Messi who came to the rescue at the last moment to help. Barca win 2-0. Former Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o, who scored the first goal of the match and the player whom Messi would replace with three minutes on the clock, remembers that he had told the Argentine to convert and take advantage of all opportunities to score and that the day when he would start scoring, he would never stop.
"Messi acknowledges it even now and recently said that thanks to my advice that his career changed. But the truth is, as a person, he hasn't changed at all. He's still the good human being that I knew back then. When he was moving between the Barcelona B team to the first team, we knew how good he was. He did have to iron out a few things but he's always had that talent. And it reflected in the Albacete match," Eto'o was speaking courtesy of the league .
Even though Barca were leading 1-0, the match was still in the balance before the then coach Frank Rijkaard called on the 17-year-old Messi to replace Eto'o despite the Cameroonian's protestations. With Barca 's arch-rivals Real Madrid Breathing through the neck of the league champions, Rijkaard was concerned that a slip could prove fatal to his title aspirations. And to his frustration, Albacete was also doing his part with his ultra defensive and counterattack approach and barely giving the rebel room. Ronaldinho or the duo always dependent on Iniesta and Deco to seal the contest. He then turned to Messi to rescue him as revealed later in Messi's biography by Guillem Ballague. We thought it was an opportune time to put a young man like Messi, says Rijkaard.
In anticipation, the Camp Nou was like a cauldron frozen in time. But Messi, who had only played in five Liga games and one Champions League and Cup game each with the senior team till then, wasn't to be a deer caught in the headlights. Within a minute-and-a-half of his introduction, Messi beat Albacete goalkeeper Raul Valbeuna with a delightful chip after Ronaldinho passed the ball with an inch-perfect lob. However, the referee chalked off the goal in a controversial off-side decision.
Messi looked crestfallen but Ronaldinho came up to him saying, I am going to give the ball to you again. In a move similar to the one 90 seconds earlier, the Brazilian superstar again lifted the ball over the defenders towards Messi. With plenty of time and space, the Argentinean allowed the ball to bounce once before delightfully scooping it over an onrushing Valbeuna with his now famous left-foot. Messi, in what has become his signature style over the years, ran arms spread and leapt on to Ronaldindo's back in wild celebration for his first-ever goal at senior level. The 91,000 crowd too erupted, realizing the potential in the youth.
The most important thing for me was his character (since he did not succumb to the pressure). We already knew at that time that Messi would one day become what he is today. I am very happy because he has done it on his own work. It will be very difficult, even impossible, to overcome his legacy. I am proud and happy to see the story he has written, and it is not over yet, says Eto'o.
The goal was also significant in more than one ways as it cemented Messi's relationship with his mentor Ronaldinho. The Brazilian recounts in Messi's biography that he didn't want Messi to return empty handed after his first goal was ruled out. I told him that I am going to give a pass for you to score again. Tomorrow it will be you in the headlines.
Ronaldinho might have retired now but Messi is still there, making headlines.