Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest player to have graced the game. The diminutive Argentinian, one of the last remnants of the true one-club era, has only played for Barcelona since his professional debut in 2004.
Not surprisingly, Lionel Messi has etched out a plethora of records in club football. The record 6-time Ballon d'Or winner is the all-time top scorer (444) and assist-provider (201) in the La Liga. He is also the only player in the Champions League to score against 35 different opponents and has the most goals (114) in the competition for a single club.
There is no doubt about the genius of Lionel Messi that has enabled him to scale footballing heights few can ever fathom to come close to. His short stature, which gives him a lower centre of gravity than most other players, coupled with upper body strength, searing pace and ability to dribble at pace allows him to take on physically imposing and taller opponents with elan.
Lionel Messi's five favourite teammates
Football is a team game. Lionel Messi's singular brilliance wouldn't have come to the fore as often as it has without the presence of skilful teammates who work tirelessly away from the limelight to feed the ball to the Argentine in forward areas where he is at his lethal best.
That perhaps explains why there is a gulf of difference between Lionel Messi's performances while playing for his club Barcelona and while doing so for his country Argentina. On that note, let us have a look at the diminutive Argentinian player's five favourite teammates, in no particular oder
Brazilian legend Ronaldinho may have played only 80 games with Lionel Messi. But they came at a time when the Brazilian's powers were on the wane while the precocious Messi had just arrived on the scene.
Ronaldinho, who was once described by Deco as being more talented than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, was the one who provided the assist for Messi's first goal for Barcelona.
Messi has fond memories of that moment, which he talked about in a later interview:
"The ball didn't settle, it bounced off a defender, then I touched it back to Ronaldinho and I waited. He lifted it over to me, and I lobbed the goalkeeper. I liked a similar one that was ruled out earlier [for offside]. That annoyed me into action."
The two-time Ballon d'Or winner eased the nerves of the then teenager, made him welcome in the dressing room.
"He mentored me and made me feel comfortable, and I loosened up. Afterwards on the pitch, I always looked for him, but we didn't have many years to enjoy together. Besides, we didn't play as much at that time. I would have liked to play more with Ronaldinho," recollects Lionel Messi.
Ronaldinho was maganimous enough to offer his jersey number to the young Argentine whom he mentored both on and off the pitch.
"He had it in his mind that he was leaving and he told me to have his number. I took it without looking at what he had done with the shirt. If I did, I would not have taken it."
Ronaldinho departed Camp Nou in the summer of 2008, when Pep Guardiola took charge and revamped the squad which was coming off a trophyless season, but not before leaving an indelible mark on Lionel Messi who soon blossomed into the player he has become today.
However, Messi has not forgotten Ronaldinho's friendship and mentorship at a time, something he has spoken about in numerous interviews over the years.
Barcelona and Lionel Messi enjoyed their most successful spell from 2008-2015.
During this period, Messi rose to stratospheric heights and was aided in no small part by a Barcelona midfield comprising Xaxi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. More on the latter two later.
Under Pep Guardiola's tiki taka philosophy, Xavi and Lionel Messi struck a kind of telephatic understanding on the pitch that continued much after the Spanish tactician left the club.
Combining with the brilliant overlapping of Dani Alves on the right-wing, Messi would cut inside with devastating effect as Xavi Hernandez, with his immaculate vision and technique threaded immaculate defence-splitting passes into spaces where the Argentine could capitalise on.
Xavi, who was the tireless engine room of the Barcelona midfield, has been bestowed the highest of praise by Lionel Messi:
"He is the best player in the history of Spanish football."
Incidentally, in one of his 'sub-par' seasons last campaign, when he managed 'only' 25 goals in the La Liga, Lionel Messi broke Xavi Hernandez's long-standing record of most Liga assists (20) in a single season.