The slayer of Arsenal, a political activist, a flying Dutch leftback turned coach and a fun-loving Brazilian…who played alongside Lionel Messi in the Argentine’s Barcelona debut back in 2004 against Espanyol and where are they now?
- Lionel Messi, who has left Barcelona, made his LaLiga debut for the club in 2004
- Messi came on as a substitute in the 81st minute, replacing midfielder Deco
- Andres Iniesta also came off the bench that day against city rivals Espanyol
- The Barca side contained some iconic names such as Carles Puyol and Xavi
- Other players had more fleeting spells, such as Henrik Larsson and Oleguer
Lionel Messi was destined for great things ever since he agreed to join Barcelona by signing a napkin in the restaurant of a tennis club aged 13, and fans are still coming to terms with his shock departure from the club.
The Argentine ripped it up in Barca’s youth teams and B side and gave fans a taste of what was to come in friendly games against Porto and Juventus but did not get his first competitive appearance until an away game at city rivals Espanyol on October 16 2004.
Messi, then aged 17, came on in the 82nd minute, replacing goalscorer Deco in an eventual 1-0 win for Barca.
A 17-year-old Lionel Messi played his first LaLiga game for Barcelona against Espanyol in 2004
Barca had a brilliant team out, many of whom would become Messi’s long-time teammates
And although his first goal did not arrive until the following May against Albacete, the cameo was enough to anyone watching to indicate the Blaugrana had a special, special boy in their hands.
Sportsmail looks at who else was in the Barca team under Dutch coach Frank Rijkaard when Messi got his first taste of LaLiga action and what became of them.
The longest-serving goalkeeper to play alongside Messi, Valdes spent another decade at Barca and played a crucial role in them winning the Champions League in 2006 as they beat Arsenal 2-1 in the final.
Despite a few high profile errors, no-one could rival Valdes for the No 1 spot and plenty of more trophies, including the 2009 and 2011 Champions League titles, were to follow.
He announced his Barca departure in 2014 but had a painful end to his career with the club as he tore a cruciate knee ligament and injuries stifled the remainder of his career with Manchester United, Standard Liege and Middlesbrough.
He returned to Barca as coach of the under-19 team in 2019 but did not last long following a falling out with Patrick Kluivert although he returned to the club earlier this year after Joan Laporta’s election win as a youth goalkeepers’ coach.
Victor Valdes shared a pitch with Messi for 10 years as Barca’s undisputable No 1
The Brazilian’s first memory of Messi was of being embarrassed by the 16-year-old Argentine when he joined his first Barca training session, later recalling that the then teenager ‘ran right through me’.
Belletti had a brief but important spell at Barca, scoring the winning goal against Arsenal in the Champions League final. Remarkably, it was the only goal he would score for the Catalans.
He saw out his career with Chelsea and then back in Brazil while he currently works as an assistant coach at Cruzeiro.
Juliano Belletti’s only Barca goal won them the 2006 Champions League final against Arsenal
The centreback was one of the most interesting characters of this Barca side for his outspoken political views.
An ardent Catalan nationalist, he once told Spain coach Luis Aragones to not call him up to his squad as he did not want to represent the national team. He left Barca in 2008 for Ajax Amsterdam and remained political in the Netherlands too, attending a demonstration in favour of squatters’ rights.
He now works in grassroots politics in his native city of Sabadell.
Oleguer, outjumped by Sol Campbell here, was known for his outspoken political views
The first captain Messi would play under, Puyol was an inspirational leader for Barca from the day he graduated from La Masia to the first team in 1999 until injuries forced him to retire in 2014.
A mentor to Messi when he first broke into the team, Puyol has remained loyal to the Argentine.
He vented his fury at the club when Messi tried to leave last year and was one of the first to pay tribute when his definitive departure was announced on Thursday.
‘We can never thank you for everything you have given us,’ he wrote on Instagram.
A post shared by Carles Puyol (@carles5puyol)
Carles Puyol also grew up in Barca’s La Masia academy and was like a mentor to Messi
GIOVANNI VAN BRONCKHORST
A scorer of ridiculously good goals, the Dutch leftback was the only player to feature in every single game of Barca’s run to the 2006 Champions League.
He left in 2007 to return to boyhood club Feyenoord, where he hung up his boots and then became assistant to current Barca boss Ronald Koeman before becoming head coach in 2015.
He now coaches in China as manager of Guangzhou City.
Now a coach in China, Giovanni van Bronckhorst (left) celebrates Beletti’s winner in Paris
The Mexican had a remarkable 22-year-career and his longest spell came with Barca, where he spent seven years and hoisted two Champions League’s alongside Messi although he missed the end of the 2008/09 season with injury.
He ended his career on a high by captaining Mexico to a stunning fifth World Cup, redeeming his image after he was caught up in a drug scandal and sanctioned by the US Treasury for allegedly aiding a powerful Mexican drug trafficker, which he denied.
He now works as a coach in Spain’s fourth division.
Rafael Marquez, celebrating with Alexander Hleb, won two Champions Leagues with Barca
Barca’s midfield puppet master for 17 years, Xavi was one of Messi’s most reliable associates on the pitch, frequently starting moves with an incisive pass which the Argentine would finish off.
The Catalan ended a trophy-laden period with his hometown club in 2015 and headed to Qatar to see out his career and then move into coaching.
He has rejected the Barca job on two occasions but will surely end up in the Nou Camp dugout before long.
But now he is unlikely to be able to coach Messi, who usurped him as Barca’s all-time highest appearance maker in March.
Legendary midfielder Xavi Hernandez had a telepathic understanding on the pitch with Messi
The Portugal international had recently arrived at Barca after a starring role in Jose Mourinho’s Champions League winning Porto.
He had similar success at Barca as the team’s most creative midfielder but was one of the main scapegoats for the team’s dip in form in Frank Rijkaard’s final season and was known for his love for partying.
He became close friends with Messi, taking the youngster on him on nights out in the Catalan capital, which led to Pep Guardiola insisting he was sold when he took over in 2008 in a bid to rid the Argentine of a potentially bad influence.
Messi replaced Deco (left) on his Barca debut and the pair became close friends off the pitch
Barca’s greatest striker of this era, the Cameroonian was the team’s goalscorer in chief, netting 130 times in 199 games with the Catalans.
But Messi’s rise upset him on more than a few occasions and he left the club shortly after scoring in the 2009 Champions League final against Manchester United, also netting in the 2006 final against Arsenal.
Another Champions League followed a year later with Inter Milan before an eventful end to his career saw him play for a host of clubs including Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, Chelsea and Everton before retiring in Qatar in 2019.
Messi and Samuel Eto’o (right) had a rivalry over who should be the team’s main man up front
Not many players end up at Barcelona after becoming an iconic figure at Celtic but Larsson was hugely respected for making little fuss in his two years in Catalonia.
He is seen as pivotal to their LaLiga title wins in 2004/05 and 2005/06 while he was hugely influential when he came off the bench in the Champions League final against Arsenal.
He went into coaching in home country Sweden and was reunited with Messi when he joined Ronald Koeman’s coaching staff
Henrik Larsson got to coach Messi last season as an assistant to head coach Ronald Koeman
The talisman of Rijkaard’s side and a sort of big brother figure to Messi, the Brazilian was Barca’s biggest modern star before the Argentine came along.
He served Messi his first goal against Albacete in 2005 with a sumptuous pass before giving the then teenager a piggy back.
Just as he did with Deco, Guardiola was keen to keep the party-loving Brazilian apart from Messi when he became coach and he went off to AC Milan, showing a few flashes of brilliance without ever re-scaling the heights he reached with Barca.
Since retiring he has done everything from appearing in a rap video boasting about being ‘full of money’ to spending five months in a prison in Paraguay for using a false passport.
Ronaldinho was like an older brother to Messi when the Argentine first broke into the team
The only other substitute who came on that day against Espanyol along with Messi, the pint-sized midfield artist would spend the next 14 years playing with the Argentine.
He left the Catalans in 2018 as the club’s most decorated player, an honour which Messi promptly took from him and is seeing out his career in Japan in Vissel Kobe along with two former Barca players in Sergi Samper and Thomas Vermaelen.
Andres Iniesta was Barca’s most decorated player until Messi usurped him in August 2018
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