Oct. 16, 2004. The day the genie was let out of the bottle — or dugout, depending on which metaphor you prefer for Lionel Messi.

Little did we know that on this very day 16 years ago, as Barcelona were slogging to a narrow victory over cross-town rivals Espanyol, we were about to witness a late substitution that would alter the course of football forever.

Having scored the only goal of the game early on, Deco was hauled off by Barca coach Frank Rijkaard with just a few minutes left and replaced by a 17-year-old academy graduate.

That 82nd-minute substitution marked a changing of the guard as Messi entered the fray in the blaugrana stripes of Barca for the very first time.

Some 733 success-laden appearances later, the Argentine superstar is still very much on top, though there have been an awful lot of pivotal events, changes and power shifts since.

Barcelona’s records

Messi has broken countless records over the prevailing years but the first big one came in March 2012 when he scored a hat trick against Granada to become Barcelona’s all-time top goal scorer at the age of just 24.

His first goal of the evening saw him draw level with Cesar Rodriguez (a star in the 1940s and 50s) on 232 goals for the club, before a second and third propelled him into the history books forever more.

On an individual level, Messi has since gone on to distort the very nature of success, having scored 635 goals, registered 279 assists, won 10 La Lia titles, six Copa del Reys, four Champions Leagues and six Ballon d’Ors, among countless other accolades.

Spanish dominance

On the international scene, the later 2000s and early 2010s were dominated by one nation alone, with Spain‘s exceptional golden generation winning two consecutive European Championships, and then there was the World Cup sandwiched in between.

While Messi shared a club pitch with many of La Roja‘s all-conquering side — Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, etc — he was left to watch on in envy as Argentina repeatedly failed to deliver.

New Champions League superpowers

Come the end of Messi’s debut 2004-05 season, a Man City team boasting the likes of Paul Bosvelt, Jon Macken and Danny Mills finished eighth in the Premier League, a massive 43 points behind winners Chelsea.

Skip forward several years and a couple of takeovers, City sealed their ascension to the top table with Sergio Aguero‘s fabled last-gasp, 94th-minute Premier League title-winning goal against QPR in 2012.

Champions League glory may have eluded them so far, but City have since powered up the pecking order by spending over a billion pounds on coveted coaches and expensive players while cementing their place as one of the biggest corporate entities in world football.

PSG, meanwhile, washed up in ninth place in Ligue 1 in the season that Messi made his debut for Barca. At the time, the Parisians’ patchy squad boasted the likes of Pauleta, Jerome Rothen and Mario Yepes as the biggest star signings.

Then along came a Gulf state and changed all that and, in 2017, a free-spending PSG were responsible for setting a truly enormous new world transfer record when they paid €222 million to pluck Neymar from Barcelona’s midst.

The mind-boggling fee involved also served to warp the transfer market, perhaps irretrievably, as knock-on transfers for the likes of Kylian Mbappe (€180m), Ousmane Dembele (€105m), and Philippe Coutinho (€160m) also took place at hugely inflated prices.

Things seem to have settled somewhat, but the fact of the matter is that some big European clubs are still willing to fork out £40m-50m on a back-up centre-half and think nothing of it.

Good bye to Ferguson and Wenger

One of the most successful and imposing dynasties in football came to an end in 2013 when Sir Alex Ferguson brought his 26-year stint as manager of Manchester United to an end.

Fergie won 38 trophies during his time at Old Trafford. United have won three under the four managers they’ve employed since — and FA Cup, an EFL Cup and the Europa League.

Another of the Premier League’s most vaunted and significant managerial reigns came to a close in 2018 too, when Arsene Wenger finally walked away from Arsenal after nearly 22 years at the helm — after winning the Premier League three times and the FA Cup on a record seven occasions.

International upsets

It was at the 2014 World Cup that football proved it still had the potential to cough up truly shocking results at the very highest level.

We are of course talking about Brazil‘s 7-1 defeat — at home — to Germany, a game which well and truly shattered the fading facade of the Selecao and went on to install Joachim Low’s elegant team as the new top dogs.

It’s worth mentioning that Messi helped drag Argentina to the final that year (the best showing they ever managed at a tournament with Messi on the field) only for Albicelete hearts to be broken deep into extra time by Mario Gotze‘s protruding big toe. Messi also won the Golden Ball for best player at the tournament.

Flying Foxes

Speaking of upsets, the 2015-16 season provided a turn up for the books that remains scarcely believable to this day.

However, we’ve been back and checked the tapes and we can confirm that Leicester City did indeed win the Premier League title over Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Man City and Manchester United.

Leicester City. 5,000-1 to win the title. And they only went and did it.

Portugal crowned Europe’s best

Messi would have no doubt felt a knot in the pit of his stomach as Cristiano Ronaldo, his eternal nemesis, emerged victorious with Portugal at Euro 2016 — a feat Messi has never managed to replicate in the Copa America.

The pair have been pitted against each other regularly in a rivalry that has come to define and divide the last decade or so of elite football.

Messi vs. Ronaldo. Barca vs. Real Madrid, an endless succession of records broken and then re-broken, awards piled high.

Of course it’s repeatedly glossed over that the pitted pair have actually maintained a fairly cordial and mutually respectful relationship throughout, but where’s the fun in that?





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