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What disease does Lionel Messi have?

Lionel Messi was diagnosed with a serious medical condition when he was 11 that could have put an end to his footballing aspirations.


BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 04:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RC Celta de Vigo at the Camp Nou on March 4, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Lionel Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency when he was 11

For football fans of this generation, there is only one player in the world who can occupy one of the pages in the history book of greatness –  Lionel Messi. There is even a healthy argument for why the Argentine could very well be the greatest player ever.

A record five Ballon d’Ors and four Champions League titles with Barcelona are firm proof of his success while records such as the highest number of goals scored in a calendar year (73), and the highest number of goals and assists in La Liga outline his personal prowess.

A superstar known in every realm of the footballing world and beyond, it is tough to believe that his footballing career could have faltered even before it started as he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency when he was just 11.


Also Read – 15 greatest quotes on Lionel Messi


Growth hormone deficiency(GHD) is a medical condition that is caused due to the deficiency of the growth hormone, which is produced by a pea-sized gland called the pituitary gland located in the brain.

This gland is responsible for maintaining hormonal balance in the human body as well as the production of the growth hormone which is necessary for the growth of an individual.

As a result, Messi remained shorter than his peers until he was treated for the same. “When I was 11 years old they discovered that I had a growth hormone deficiency and I had to start a treatment to help me to grow. Every night I had to stick a needle into my legs, night after night after night, every day of the week, and this over a period of three years.

“I was so small, they said that when I went onto the pitch, or when I went to school, I was always the smallest of all. It was like this until I finished the treatment and I then started to grow properly,” Messi told the Telegraph.

Lionel Messi displaying his talents on his eighth birthday (Image courtesy – Telegraph)

To understand the impact of the treatment, take a look at the numbers. Messi was just 4’2” when he was 11 and due to the treatment, his current height is 5’7”. Despite his short stature, the genius within him was on display from a very young age.

The coach at his childhood club Newell’s Old Boys, Gabriel Digeralamo, vouched for his ability in his interview with the Telegraph, “On the Newell’s pitch the directors would ask him to do some keepy-uppy before the game, or at half-time.

“When we went to Mar del Plata, or around there, before the game he would do keepy-uppies and they would throw money at him. Fifteen minutes would go by and he still hadn’t lost control of the ball. So the people would come up and throw a coin at him. In Peru, I think he got up to 1,200 touches. He was nine-years-old.”

However, the club was reluctant to provide the necessary medical support for his treatment in spite of agreeing to it initially as disclosed by Messi’s father, Jorge, “They said ‘we will pay for the treatment, don’t worry’ but it was like begging, they gave me 300 pesos and never any more. If they had paid, naturally he would have stayed at Newell’s.”

The family, being a middle-class one, could not pay for the cost of the treatment after a certain point.

(Video courtesy – Kamal199323 YouTube Channel)

Naturally, Newell’s loss was Barcelona’s gain. The Catalans were so heavily impressed with the then 13-year-old that they drew up a contract on a paper napkin with Jorge Messi threatening to fly the kid back to Argentina if he was not signed up immediately.

That decision by then Barcelona sporting director, Charly Rexach, is one of the biggest moments in footballing history and the contract was agreed on the grounds that Barcelona would provide the necessary medical support for the young Argentine.

Barcelona spent about $1500 a month for the injections and they did eventually help Messi attain an average height that suited his strengths of balance, agility and speed. The injections not only helped in increasing his height, but also countering several other internal issues such as pituitary function, problems of the skin and teeth, poor vision and a lower than normal immunity.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 2: Leo Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates his goal during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Panathinaikos at the Camp Nou stadium on November 2, 2005 in in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Luis Bagu/Getty Images)
The injections helped Messi counter GHD and attain an average height of 5’7”

This is the reason why any sportsperson’s use of such an injection comes under scrutiny for it can also act as a performance enhancer in normal individuals and in the case of Messi, his doctor Diego Schwarsztein explained to the Telegraph, “Is it doping? The growth hormone has been used as a supplement by adults who do not need it, with the objective of gaining a sporting advantage.

“But you have to differentiate between growth hormone treatment for an adult who doesn’t need it, who is looking for a physical benefit – and they are high doses and can have very negative side-effects – and the treatment of a physical deficiency in a young boy”.

While Messi’s GHD is pretty well-known, there is another lesser known and unconfirmed aspect of his health. Speculations were rife that Messi was mildly autistic and was diagnosed with Asperger‘s syndrome when he was eight.

Asperger’s syndrome is a disorder where the person interacts differently with the world and can have difficulties dealing with social situations. Occasionally, these people can possess outrageous talent in certain areas, which lends credence to the rumours of Messi being autistic.

In fact, the Barcelona ace used to be called “el pequeño mudito” or “the little quiet one” as a child for he rarely interacted with his team-mates. Given this behaviour and his magical footballing ability, the rumours might indeed have some truth in them but, unless confirmed, it remains mere speculation for now.

Meanwhile, Messi having to battle such a threat to his footballing career at such a young age has instilled in him an unyielding, never say die attitude for it is tough on any kid at that age to take injections for a benefit that they may not fully understand.

However, he dealt with that hurdle with an understanding and maturity beyond his age and it is no wonder that his ability and achievements stand miles above his peers.

(Video courtesy – Messi Magic YouTube Channel)

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