LIONEL MESSI PICTURE SPECIAL: Making his debut against Jose Mourinho’s Porto, breaking Manchester United hearts at Wembley but humiliated 8-2 by Bayern in Lisbon – the agony and ecstasy for the Barcelona captain as he leaves the Nou Camp

  • Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona 17 years after making his competitive debut in 2004 against Espanyol
  • The Argentine’s first goal for the club was a coolly-taken chip against Albacete after a pass from Ronaldinho
  • He announced himself to the world with a hat-trick against Real Madrid in March 2007 at the Nou Camp
  • Messi won the first of a record six Ballon d’Ors in 2009 after leading Barca to the Champions League
  • He was so admired that even Real Betis’ usually fierce supporters gave him a standing ovation in 2019
  • But his time at Barca also contained some crushing lows such as the 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in 2020 

Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona after 17 incredible years as the club’s most decorated player, all-time top scorer and all-time highest appearance maker.

No-one can doubt he is the club’s greatest player ever and perhaps the sport’s greatest too, and his time with the Blaugrana is laden with glorious moments, from his Diego Maradona-esque goal against Getafe, to making a fool out of Jerome Boateng against Bayern Munich, to scoring an uncharacteristic towering header against Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final.

The Argentine’s unbelievable 91-goal haul in 2012, the most ever strikes in a European calendar year, also comes to mind when remembering his finest moments with Barcelona, as does the mesmerising partnership he formed with Luis Suarez and Neymar as the team won the treble in 2015. 

Lionel Messi leaves Barcelona after countless magical memories and scoring a record number of goals for the Catalans

Messi’s 17-year spell at the club, which he first joined aged 13, also witnessed a fair share of crushing disappointments 

But there have been also been some sickening lows.

What about him missing a penalty against Chelsea on the night the Blues silenced the Nou Camp by coming from behind to draw 2-2 and real the 2012 Champions League final at Barca’s expense?

Or the crushing 4-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in 2019 as Barca threw away a three-goal lead to exit the Champions League for a second year in a row.

And who can forget last year’s humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich, which led to Messi filing that infamous burofax telling the club he wanted to leave.

As the Argentine now looks for a new home for the first time since moving from his home city of Rosario to the Catalan capital in 2000, Sportsmail looks back at the highs and lows of Messi’s unforgettable time at Barcelona. 

Messi got his first outing in a friendly against Jose Mourinho’s Porto in November 2003 but his competitive debut came away to local rivals Espanyol in LaLiga on October 16 2004. He replaced Deco in the 81st minute and left an immediate impression as he almost scored a header and ripped a hole in Espanyol’s  defence with lightning quick dribbles from the right wing

Messi’s first goal for Barca came against Albacete on May 1 2005. The Catalans had already been crowned LaLiga champions and the Argentine’s debut goal at the Nou Camp added yet more festivities to a party atmosphere. And what a goal it was too: Ronaldinho served the then 17-year-old with a sumptuous through ball which Messi calmly lobbed over the keeper to score 

Messi had been the subject of a lot of excited chatter among football fans and in a thrilling March 2007 fixture against Real Madrid he truly announced himself to the world with a stunning hat-trick. Then aged 19, Messi sealed his place in Barca’s fans’ hearts by three times coming to their rescue, grabbing a 90th minute equaliser to complete his treble and silence their rivals

Messi confirmed his greatness a mesmerising run from the halfway line to score in a 4-1 win over Getafe in a 2007 Copa del Rey semi-final first leg. The goal was remarkably similar to compatriot Diego Maradona’s strike in the 1986 World Cup against England, Messi going to ground just before providing the final touch.  ‘That’s Maradona dressed up as Messi. He has been reincarnated,’ yelled an Argentine commentator. What is remembered less often is that Barca ended up losing the tie.

This was the night Messi was given his first run in the ‘false nine’ role he would go on to make his own. Guardiola came up with the idea one evening while preparing for the May 2009 Clasico. He told Messi to sit back and play in the area between the halfway line and Real’s box. The plan could hardly have gone better as Messi reigned supreme in a 6-2 win on enemy territory

The 2009 Champions League final was billed as a battle between Ballon d’Or incumbent Cristiano Ronaldo and challenger Messi and the man nicknamed ‘La Pulga’ (the atomic flea) lived up to his name by flying into the air to score a towering header and clinch victory for Guardiola’s side. Seven months later he won the first of a record six Ballon d’Ors

Arsenal hauled themselves back into contention in this 2009/10 Champions League quarter-final tie with a 2-2 draw in the first leg and took a shock early lead in the second leg at the Nou Camp through Niklas Bendtner. Messi provided an emphatic response with a 21-minute hat-trick before adding a fourth in the 4-1 win. No-one in England could doubt the Argentine now.

Xavi and Andres Iniesta were seen as front runners to win the 2010 Ballon d’Or after leading Spain to World Cup glory. They got on the podium in an incredible achievement for Barca but Messi’s performances were valued even more highly by the France Football judges, who handed the Argentine the most prestigious individual award in football for a second year in a row

Occasions don’t come much bigger than a Champions League semi-final away to Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola had exchanged barbs before the 2011 fixture but Messi did the talking on the pitch by  scoring one of the greatest goals in the competition’s history, slaloming his way through Madrid’s defence before sliding to the floor to beat Iker Casillas

Messi won his third Champions League with Barca in May 2011 as his side again made light work of Ferguson’s United with a dazzling 3-1 win at Wembley, the scene of the club’s first European Cup win back in 1992. Messi, typically, was at the heart of things, restoring Barca’s lead in the second half with a thumping low strike that was too powerful for Edwin van der Sar

Even though Messi scored 73 goals in the 2011-12 season, Barca ended the campaign only winning the Copa del Rey. And they are still haunted by the Champions League semi-final defeat to Chelsea.  With John Terry sent off and Barca 2-1 up, they were awarded a penalty. But Messi smacked his kick against the bar and Chelsea clung on to draw 2-2 and reach the final instead

Messi scored an incredible 91 goals for Barca and Argentina in 2012, a record number of  goals in a European calendar year which shattered Gerd Muller’s count of 85 strikes in 1972. Highlights included scoring five goals against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League plus four-goal hauls against Valencia and Espanyol.

A 2015 Champions League semi-final first leg was Guardiola’s first game against Barcelona since joining  the Germans and he had issued a stark warning about Messi, saying: ‘There is no way to stop him. He is too good.’ The Argentine proved his old boss right by making a mockery of defender Jerome Boateng before calmly chipping Manuel Neuer in a 3-0 win for Barca

Hell hath no fury like a Messi scorned and Athletic Bilbao did not know what they were bargaining for when they meted out some rough treatment to the Argentine in a 2015 Copa del Rey final. Messi got his revenge as only he knows how, dancing his way through the Basque side’s defence to score one of the best goals of his career. And that’s saying something 

Messi formed a dream partnership with Luis Suarez and Neymar in the 2014-15 campaign and the trio proved unplayable together by firing Barca to a second treble, scoring a remarkable 122 goals in all competitions. The Argentine could not score in the Champions League final against Juventus but his Uruguayan and Brazilian strike partners did in an emphatic 3-1 win

Real Madrid were used to being tormented by Messi by the time of a crunch fixture with Barca in April 2017 . The Argentine had the final say yet again against the old enemy with a last-minute winner in a 3-2 victory and in a rare display of egoism took off his shirt and displayed it to the baying home crowd. But after a moment like that, can you blame him?

Real Betis have arguably the most passionate fans in LaLiga but they were brought to their knees by this sublime display in a 4-1 win for Barca in March 2019. Messi had already scored two goals but his hat-trick strike, a subtle first-time lob, elevated his performance to a new level and the home fans responded by chanting his name, applauding him and bowing down to him. 

Only the most ardent Liverpool supporters would have given their team a chance after losing 3-0 in the first leg of their 2018/19 Champions League semi-final with Barca and their second-leg collapse to lose 4-0 at Anfield  was a truly harrowing night for the Catalans and especially for Messi. A month later Messi called his side’s performance ‘unforgiveable’

Without a doubt the lowest moment of Messi’s 17-year Barca career came on that infamous Champions League quarter final at an empty Estadio da Luz, where his side were laid to waste 8-2 by a rampant Bayern Munich in the Catalans’ worst ever defeat in European competition. Two weeks later, Messi sent Barca a burofax declaring that he wanted to leave the club immediately

The thrashing to Bayern was more shocking but Barca’s 4-1 humbling at home to Paris Saint-Germain in last season’s Champions League was arguably more painful as it confirmed how low the Catalans had sunk. They had hopes of turning the tie around in Paris but Messi missed a penalty and the game ended 1-1 to complete a crushing 5-2 defeat on aggregate

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