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Leo Messi: Football's greatest signing?

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On September 17th 2000, this very day 12 years ago, a 13-year-old Argentine boy wandered into the Nou Camp to sign for Barcelona.

Lionel Andres Messi had arrived at his dream club, to uproot from his native Argentina, bringing his father with him on an exciting new adventure.

And Barcelona were poised to complete the best piece of youth team scouting, and the most lucrative signing, in football history.

Messi was always a talented player - he'd joined local club Newll's Old Boys as a eight-year-old.

By 11, one of Argentina's most famous clubs - River Plate - showed an interest, but not for the first time the youngster's height, and expensive growth hormone treatment, put them off.

But Carles Rexach, a Barcelona sporting director with family in Argentina, arranged a trial. It didn't take long for Barca's scouts to make up their minds, and Messi and son were soon arranging accommodation - Barcelona was to be their new home.

Youth team goals came easily and quickly, and Messi made his debut for the first-team aged 16 in a friendly against Porto.

No-one could have predicted the success that was to follow. Messi has become the world's best player - a three-time Ballon d'Or winner by the age of 24, Barcelona's all-time record goalscorer by the age of 25.

A debut goal at the Nou Camp in 2006 aged 17 gave locals a taste of things to come - a sumptuous pass from Ronaldinho providing neat symmetry - Messi was to replace, and improve upon, the Brazilian's work in Catalonia.

Under Frank Rijkaard, a teenage Messi vindicated Barcelona's faith in their undersized superstar. The gamble - abet a relatively easy one to make - had paid off, and in some style.

The hormone treatments boosted Messi skyward, but his trajectory was rocketing upward regardless.

His reputation soared, especially after he hit an El Clasico hat-trick to earn 10-man Barcelona a 3-3 draw against Real Madrid as a 19-year-old.

The "new Maradona" tag finally appeared justified. There had been many false starts - Ariel Ortega and Pablo Aimar two of the more recent - but finally a deserving heir apparent had been found.

Strikingly similar efforts at replicating Maradona's 'Goal of the Century' against England [see Messi against Getafe] and his 'Hand of God' [Messi against Espanyol] merely confirmed suspicions that Messi was Maradona take-two.

On the pitch at least, as Messi shares none of his compatriot's fondness for off the field shenanigans.

12 years ago today Barcelona clinched quite possible the greatest signing in the history of football. Such a hyperbolic statement is purely subjective, but it's without doubt that Messi has gone on to become one of the all-time greats. And he's still 25.

He's won every major club honour, every individual award at least twice over. All that remains to be conquered is the international arena. But Barcelona are not bothered by such concerns.

For the Catalans have Lionel Messi, and they signed him as a 13-year-old. On the open market now - of course, Barca would likely never sell - but hypothetically he's worth north of £120m, possibly more than £150m.

On this day 12 years ago, Barcelona made the best decision in the club's history.

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