Photo: Argentina fans show their pride with a banner of famous Argentines Diego Maradona, Pope Francis I and Lionel Messi at the Estadio Nacional de Santiago in Chile for the Copa America final - @CA2015
Lionel Andrés "Leo" Messi (Spanish pronunciation: [ljoˈnel anˈdɾes ˈmesi]; born 24 June 1987) is an Argentine professional footballer who plays as a forward for Spanish club Barcelona and the Argentina national team. Often considered the best player in the world and rated by many in the sport as the greatest of all time, Messi is the only football player in history to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or four times, all of which he won consecutively, and the first player to win three European Golden Shoes. With Barcelona he has won seven La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League titles, as well as three Copa del Rey titles. A prolific goalscorer, Messi holds the Guinness World Records titles for most goals scored in La Liga (289), a La Liga season (50), a calendar year (91), a Champions League match (five), and most Champions League seasons (five).
Born and raised in central Argentina, Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency as a child. At age 13, he relocated to Spain to join Barcelona, who agreed to pay for his medical treatment. After a fast progression through Barcelona's youth academy, Messi made his competitive debut aged 17 in October 2004. Despite being injury-prone during his early career, he established himself as an integral player for the club within the next three years, finishing 2007 as a finalist for both the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year award, a feat he repeated the following year. His first uninterrupted campaign came in the 2008–09 season, during which he helped Barcelona achieve the first treble in Spanish football. At 22 years old, Messi won the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year award by record voting margins.
Three successful seasons followed, with Messi winning three consecutive FIFA Ballons d'Or, including an unprecedented fourth. His personal best campaign to date was the 2011–12 season, in which he set the La Liga and European records for most goals scored in a single season, while establishing himself as Barcelona's all-time top scorer in official competitions in March 2012. He again struggled with injury during the following two seasons, twice finishing second for the Ballon d'Or behind Cristiano Ronaldo, his perceived career rival. Messi regained his best form during the 2014–15 campaign, breaking the all-time goalscoring records in both La Liga and the Champions League in November 2014, and led Barcelona to a historic second treble.
As an Argentine international, Messi has represented his country in six major tournaments. At youth level, he won the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, finishing the tournament as its best player and top scorer, and an Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics. His style of play as a diminutive, left-footed dribbler drew comparisons with compatriot Diego Maradona, who declared the teenager his successor. After making his senior debut in August 2005, Messi became the youngest Argentine to play and score in a FIFA World Cup during the 2006 edition, and reached the final of the 2007 Copa América, where he was named young player of the tournament. As the squad's captain since August 2011, he led Argentina to the finals of the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Copa América, and both times was selected as player of the tournament.