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Has Lionel Messi’s potential successor made him fall for soccer once more? | Sid Lowe


The first aim Lionel Messi ever scored for Barcelona was taken off him, so he did it once more two minutes later, and stored on doing it for over a decade. It was Could 2005 and the 89th minute of the thirty fourth week when Ronaldinho scooped a beautiful go and the 17-year-old sporting No 30 lifted it softly into the web.

To his proper, although, the linesman’s flag was up, most likely wrongly. Raúl Valbuena ruffled his hair, latex in these locks, and gave him an indulgent look that stated: Unfortunate, child. Subsequent time. Albacete’s keeper already knew this boy was completely different; what he didn’t know was that subsequent time was just about now. And within the 91st minute Ronaldinho scooped a go as ludicrous because the final and Messi lifted it gently in.

The aim was nearly similar solely this one counted. A smile unfold throughout Messi’s face, his arms opened large, and Ronaldinho carried him on his again. There, Messi waved his arms, complicity clear between the world’s finest participant and this small, shy teenager that some known as the flea and others known as el mudo, the mute one; between that 12 months’s Ballon d’Or winner and the child who was nonetheless not sure precisely the place he was, nonetheless much less who he was or would turn out to be. Not simply prime scorer at his membership however prime scorer at any membership wherever, ever. Final evening, fifteen years on, Messi scored his 644th aim for Barcelona.

Six.

Hundred.

And.

Forty.

4.

Nobody has scored extra for a single group, Pelé’s 643 for Santos left behind in an empty stadium on a chilly Tuesday evening in Valladolid, one other statistic smashed – as if it’s all concerning the numbers anyway. On the finish of the sport, gained 3-0 by Barcelona with Clément Lenglet and Martin Braithwaite scoring earlier than he did, Messi boarded a aircraft for Buenos Aires. Earlier than it took off, he left a message. “After I began enjoying, I by no means thought I might break any information, nonetheless much less this one Pelé had,” he wrote. “I can solely thank everybody who has helped me over time: teammates, mates and everybody who helps me each day.”

Lionel Messi celebrates his first aim for Barcelona, towards Albacete in Could 2005. {Photograph}: Lluís Gené/AFP/Getty Pictures

It’s a lengthy listing, 54 robust simply counting those that assisted his targets, with Luis Suárez, Andrés Iniesta and Dani Alves giving probably the most. There’s Samuel Eto’o, Sylvinho, Ludovic Giuly, Iniesta, Deco, Xavi, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Thierry Henry, Bojan Krkic, Alves, Alex Hleb, Zlatan Ibrahimovič, Pedro, Eric Abidal, Yaya Touré, Seydou Keita, Maxwell, David Villa, Thiago, Adriano, Ibrahima Affelay, Cesc Fàbregas, Gerard Piqué, Alexis Sánchez, Christian Tello, Martin Montoya, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Neymar, Alex Tune, Marc Bartra, Suárez, Ivan Rakitic, Rafinha, Arda Turan, Munir El Haddadi, Lucas Digne, Sergi Roberto, Javier Mascherano, Paco Alcácer, Paulinho, Aleix Vidal, Ousmane Dembélé, Philippe Coutinho, Arturo Vidal, Nelson Semedo, Malcom, Antoine Griezmann, Arthur Melo, Riqui Puig, Francisco Trincao and Frenkie De Jong, in that order.

At every finish are Ronaldinho and now Pedri, who culminated a 20-pass transfer with a stunning again heel into Messi’s path. At a time when the basic Messi aim, bent into the far nook coming in off the fitting, isn’t moving into, these ones are: from the within left channel, Messi put the ball diagonally throughout Jordi Masip and into the opposite facet. Because it hit the web, he turned and pointed at Pedri. Then he flung his arms round him and hugged the air out of him.

A very long time has handed between the primary aim and the 644th and lots has occurred, a lot that even Messi had determined it was time to maneuver on. But regardless of that – due to that? – watching final evening it was simple to be drawn to the similarities and connections, the sure parallels performed out. To the sense that Messi sees one thing in Pedri, possibly even one thing of himself or of the boys who left his facet, leaving a gap the place they as soon as have been. That he is aware of.

Lengthy earlier than the remainder noticed it, Ronaldinho was telling them: this child is healthier than me. If that was some endorsement, it was additionally some form of promise, a dedication to information, defend and nurture. If later it turned an issue, Pep Guardiola eager to guide Messi in direction of completely different firm, Messi by no means forgot it. There was pleasure in enjoying collectively – it’s forgotten how good Messi was the day the Bernabéu gave Ronaldinho a standing ovation – and a belief that may really feel like preparation for a handover, some footballing circle of life. Ronaldinho’s eclipse arrived early, his time too fleeting, however he left them in good fingers, legacy secured.

Exaggeration is straightforward, it doesn’t assist to load expectation early – nonetheless much less this expectation – and issues in Catalonia are extra speedy. However there was a bit of trace of that in what occurred in Valladolid. The awkward child with no pretension, simply expertise. The Ballon d’or winner who sees it, embraces it. The quiet, unsaid connection. The sense of one thing beginning – and ending? The popularity, possibly even succession. It was imagined to be Neymar who adopted Messi – Messi even promised to assist then step apart, and there’s Ansu Fati too. However on Tuesday evening it felt like Pedri, excellent recently, was confirmed as a candidate to guide Barcelona’s future.

Or even perhaps as somebody who can postpone that future? Watching them mix, the query arose: might Pedri be what Messi wanted to remain? In any case, it wasn’t that Messi broke the report or performed beautifully – and it was “solely” Valladolid – it was that he appeared to be having fun with enjoying this time, and with Pedri notably. It wasn’t simply the help; it was every thing. How they match, how they noticed the identical sport. How Messi, carrying Barcelona on his again alone like Ronaldinho carried him, might need discovered a companion.

Barcelona have discovered a participant for certain. Born in 2002 in Tegueste, Tenerife (inhabitants: 11,000), the place his mother and father ran a bar, Pedri first began enjoying soccer along with his older brother Fernando however was too small and thin for Tenerife. Actual Madrid weren’t satisfied both, which was no dangerous factor: a Barcelona supporter whose dad performed movies of Michael Laudrup, he needed to be like Iniesta, proper all the way down to getting his hair lower like him – till his dad stated that’s not a lower, son. He performed like Iniesta too, in keeping with Pepe Mel, his coach at Las Palmas, and final evening’s help that recalled a go from Iniesta to Messi when he broke the report for targets in a calendar 12 months.

Small, slight, socks midway down his shins, he’s like one thing from one other period. There’s a contradiction in that mixture of a child with no conceitedness and a participant with whole assurance. “There goes a millionaire who doesn’t realize it,” as Mel put it to AS’s Juan Jiménez. “He’s not going to attain fifteen a season however everybody will develop round him. He is aware of precisely what each one among his teammates wants and at all times makes good selections.”

Lionel Messi with the Ballon d’Or in 2011, flanked by Barcelona teammates Xavi (right) and Andrés Iniesta.
Lionel Messi with the Ballon d’Or in 2011, flanked by Barcelona teammates Xavi (proper) and Andrés Iniesta. {Photograph}: Lluís Gené/AFP by way of Getty

Signed for €4million from Las Palmas, the place he had been the membership’s youngest aim scorer at 16 years 9 months, Pedri lives with Fernando, a lot was manufactured from him turning as much as one sport along with his package in a provider bag and leaving in a taxi – “I don’t have a licence; it was that or come by bike,” he stated – and initially he was suggested to exit on mortgage. Ronald Koeman, although, watched him make a case for inclusion. His contact is impeccable, his consciousness too, his timing and management of area. Towards Actual Sociedad, he crashed into the publish sprinting again to make a saving clearance. He has performed in all fourteen league video games and in all types of positions: left, proper, deep, No 10. He solely turned 18 final month; he’s 121 days youthful than Messi was when he supplied his first help.

“Pedri performs along with his head up,” Lenglet stated. “He doesn’t have the physique of an elite athlete however his head works quicker than the remainder. He has a particular feeling with Messi.” Koeman stated: “Messi is joyful, you possibly can see. He performs higher with good gamers round him. Pedri is sweet between the traces and combines effectively with Leo.” Guillermo Amor, Barcelona’s institutional director, was requested to explain Pedri in a phrase. “There will probably be many,” he stated. “I’d go for beneficiant, due to every thing he does for the group … splendid – excellent … and stunning at his age.” Amor was requested too concerning the issues that would persuade Messi to remain and whether or not Pedri might be one among them. “He understands Pedri; between the traces they join,” he stated. “I don’t know if that’s a cause to recuperate his happiness.”

Others did. In the summertime, Pedri described it as a “reward” to be in Messi’s saying: “I’ll most likely faint after I see him within the dressing room.” Now, wrote Santi Giménez, it’s the opposite manner spherical: “Pedri is a Christmas reward for Messi, a scandalous participant who ultimately gives him with a companion.” The paper’s editor Alfredo Relaño stated Pedri had “unfurrowed Messi’s forehead”. “Pedri dances, Messi smiles,” ran the headline in Sport. In El Mundo Deportivo, the cartoon had a Barcelona badge with “Pedro and Messi, Inc” on, their fingers assembly within the center. “Geniuses search geniuses to feed their expertise,” wrote Paco Cabezas in El Mundo, “Messi has given Pedri his blessing.”

That’s no minor subject. Messi doesn’t simply play soccer, he will get it. He is aware of, judges, and calls for. It isn’t subservience he seeks; it’s excellence, understanding. There have been good gamers at Barcelona however not all have had that blessing nor been themselves, the stress too nice, unable to adapt. Simply have a look at the present group. Pedri, against this, appears unfazed. “I play as if I used to be within the backyard with my brother,” he says. However that wasn’t Fernando he was flicking it to on Tuesday evening; it was Lionel Messi, the person Pedri was serving to to a different report, his 644th aim arriving fifteen years after the primary.

Fast Information

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Tuesday 22 December
Elche 2 -2 Osasuna
Valencia 0-1 Sevilla
Actual Sociedad 0-2 Atletico Madrid
SD Huesca 1-1 Levante
Actual Valladolid 0-3 Barcelona
Villarreal 1-1 Athletic Bilbao





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