Where are they now? The XI that kicked off Messi’s Barcelona career

Where are they now? The XI that kicked off Messi’s Barcelona career

Lionel Messi. Where do we begin with you? Nine La Liga titles, six Copa del Reys, four Champions Leagues, three UEFA Super Cups, five Ballon d’Ors, four time European Golden Shoe winner, the most goals in La Liga history (389), highest scorer for Barcelona ever (563), 2014 World Cup Golden Ball winner. Is there anything else we forgot? Oh yeah, an Olympic Gold Medal.

Needless to say that the diminutive but ingenious striker has exceeded all expectations that were placed upon a man with such a slight frame. The Argentinian has led Barcelona to glory time and time again and at the age of 31, he looks likely to achieve even more greatness before his days as a pro are over.

 

Messi scored his first ever goal for the Catalan club on May 1 2005 and in the process kick started a chain of events that would change footballing history for ever. His opponents on that day were Albacete Balompié and although they went down 2-0 on the day, they can be proud of their inclusion in this historic event.

Barcelona, who were managed by Frank Rijkaard at the time, were on the verge of becoming the tiki-taka idols that they are today and still had a number of superstars amongst their ranks who helped to mould Messi into an icon. Here’s is what that lot are up to today.

Goalkeeper: Victor Valdes

The 33-year-old is one of the most experienced shot stoppers in the world. He played 535 times for Barcelona but it seems his fellow countrymen have always stood in his path.

Despite winning the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Valdes didn’t play a minute at either tournament, eternally being cast in the shadow of international captain Iker Casillas.

Following brief stints and Middlesbrough and Manchester United, making 28 Premier League appearances in 2016/17, the Spaniard announced his retirement aged 35.

Right-back: Juliano Belletti

Belletti

The Brazilian defender was perhaps one of the more underrated full-backs in his time and probably never quite got the love he deserved. His crowning moment in a Barcelona shirt was scoring the winning goal against Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League final, his only strike for the Catalonian club.

He then moved on to Chelsea and Fluminense before retiring in 2011 due to an achilles tendon injury.

Centre-back: Presas Oleguer

Oleguer

Oleguer was another Barcelona player from this era who never quite received the gratification he was due. The Spaniard played 167 games for the Spanish giants, winning two La Liga titles and the 2006 Champions League. He had his swan song at Ajax before retiring in 2011 at the age of just 31.

Centre-back: Carles Puyol 

Puyol showing Zidane how it is done.

Perhaps even more so than Messi, Puyol is undoubtedly a Barcelona legend. The wild-haired defender won the hearts of many fans due to his take-no-prisoners style and unbridled passion and energy for the club he joined in 1995.

Capable of performing in the centre of defence or at right-back, Puyol captained the club through their most lucrative period, winning ten titles at the helm.

He retired in 2014 and became the assistant to Barcelona’s director of football, Andoni Zubizarreta, but eventually left the position unceremoniously after the former goalkeeper was sacked.

Left-back: Giovanni van Bronckhorst

Van Bronckhorst

Gio was a widely admired footballer in his day, having played for Feyenoord, Rangers and Arsenal before signing for Barca. Always skilful and athletic, his spell at the Camp Nou was admittedly towards the end of his storied career, which concluded at the 2010 World Cup final in the Netherlands’ losing effort against Spain.

His last ever goal was an absolute humdinger agains Uruguay in the semi-finals, which isn’t a bad way to go out at all.

He’s now ventured into management and guided Feyenoord to their first Dutch top flight division title since 1999 in 2016/17 and has been touted as a future manager for the Netherlands national team.

Midfield: Rafael Marquez

Marquez

Protecting the back four was the always reliable Mexican, Rafael Marquez. Having joined Barcelona in 2003 from Monaco, Marquez was capable of playing anywhere in the defensive line and was also handy in midfield.

Although criticised for his ill-discipline, Marquez was the sort of player that was willing to put his body on the line in any situation. The 38-year-old eventually returned to his first club, Atlas, retiring for both his club and Mexico after the 2018 World Cup.

Midfield: Andres Iniesta

Andres Iniesta

Although his talents may have wained of late, Iniesta remained a vital player for Barcelona until leaving for Japanese club Vissel Kobe in 2018. Although we could talk about his past achievements until the cows come home, Iniesta remarkably owns his opponents on that day, Albacete.

The 33-year-old spent his youth career at the club and became their majority shareholder in 2011, saving them from administration in 2013. We can’t say this about many footballers, but Iniesta is a true class act who was eventually given a life-time contract at the Camp Nou.

Midfield: Deco

Deco

Deco perhaps lived in the shadow of Ronaldinho at Barcelona. While the showboating Brazilian won all the headlines, the Portuguese star became a much lauded player for his efforts in the centre of the pitch, which saw him score 22 goals in 161 games for the Catalans.

He is also one of the few players to have lifted the Champions League with two clubs (Barcelona 2006 and Porto 2004). Short spells at Chelsea and Fluminense followed before he retired in 2013.

Forward: Ludovic Giuly

Giuly

The French attacking midfielder was often used as a front three by Rikjaard, accompanying Ronaldinho and Eto’o up top. Messi’s rise would eventually see Guily leave Barcelona in 2007 where he went on to play for Roma, Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco and Lorient.

He was still plying a trade at the ripe old age of 38 in the French amateur league with Monts d’Or Azergues. Guess what their stadium is called? Stade Ludovic Giuly. You couldn’t make it up!

Forward: Samuel Eto’o

Eto'o

The Cameroon international was a force to be reckoned with at Barcelona. He scored 129 goals in 201 games for the Catalonians. He then joined Inter Milan in 2009 and effectively retained the Champions League that season after winning it in the previous campaign with Barca.

Less than successful spells followed at Anzhi, Chelsea, Everton and Sampdoria. He now plays for Qatar Sports Club after stints with Antalyaspor and Konyaspor in Turkey.

Forward: Ronaldinho

Ronaldinho

For a player that was once in the same vein as Messi, Ronnie’s star has fallen so dramatically that he has almost become a parody of himself. The former World Player of the Year and World Cup winner left Spain for AC Milan in 2008 but soon moved back to Brazil, having spells at Flamengo and Atletico Minerio.

After a short time in Mexico with Queretaro, he retired from the game after turning out for Fluminense in late 2016. The Brazilian was the man who actually assisted Messi for his goal on that memorable day so you could say it was a proverbial passing of the torch.

Substitute: Thiago Motta

The Brazilian, who represented Italy at international level, was just a lad during his Barcelona days but became something of a midfield general at the club. Sadly his time was dogged by injuries and he was eventually sold to Atletico Madrid in 2007, but didn’t hit his stride until he joined Inter Milan two years later.

At 36, he is now coach of PSG’s under-19s side after retiring from playing in the summer of 2018.

Substitute: Lionel Messi

Decent, decent, decent.

Here he is then, the man of the hour. The main event, or ‘The Flea’ as he was less glamorously known as back then. There isn’t much else to say about Messi that hasn’t already been written.

However, let it be known that this, his goal against Albacete, was his only strike in eight games that season, which proves he wasn’t always that prolific.

It should be said that is was a delightful lob though, a skill that is practically second nature to him now.