Lionel Messi was 12, in 2000, when he had hormonal ailment that would have cost as much as $1000 per month for two years - $24,000 dollars approximately. Horacio Gaggioli, an agent, established contact with Josep Maria Minguella, who was the transfer advisor of FC Barcelona during the reign of Joan Gaspart.

Miguella was also a football agent, whose clientele include Maradona, Hristo Stoitchkov and Romario, got this to the attention of Carles Rexach, football advisor to Gaspart and paid for the ticket of the 12-year-old boy to Spain. Rexach didn’t lose much time and offered a ‘paper napkin’ contract to the boy and his family. Lionel Messi finally signed for FC Barcelona – perhaps one of the greatest investments in the history of football.

Later, Joan Lacueva, Barca’s director general also paid a part of Messi’s treatment from his own pocket – to curb the follies of bureaucracy. Nevertheless, each and every investment paid off and the diminutive Argentine finally realised his potential.

Fast forward to 2008, Messi was still a very promising 20-year-old, who succumbed to an excruciating injury against Celtic in UEFA Champions League. He still did not have strength to sustain himself at the top level. The injury against Celtic was his seventh in two years and he was on his way to be tagged as a phenomenal but injury-prone player. And then came Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola had the audacity to deem Deco and Ronaldinho surplus to requirements. He also realised that the future’s Lionel Messi and he needed special attention. The Argentine was an ardent lover of steaks, cola and sweets but under Guardiola, he was strictly restricted to a diet of vegetables and fish.

Guardiola also administered a special set of vitamins which were essential to the young man’s development. It’s not only Messi, but every member of the squad was administered a special combination of vitamins and minerals for their physical development and endurance. The devil is in the details and not many know this better than Guardiola. 

Under his tutelage Messi raked up numbers, which were considered hitherto impossible. 43 goals & 20 assists in 70 matches for Barcelona and Argentina in 2008/09, 48 goals & 18 assists in 60 matches in 2009/10, 57 goals & 34 assists in 66 matches in 2010/11 season and finally a phenomenal 87 goals and 44 assists in 77 matches in Guardiola’s final season at Barcelona – Lionel Messi improved phenomenally and more importantly, his injury-proneness reduced radically.

His first big injury under Guardiola came in the match against Atletico Madrid in September 2010, courtesy a reckless tackle by Thomas Ujfalusi. The diminutive Argentine, who has some breathtaking goals to his credit, developed as much as a player as he did physically to sustain the rigours of top tier football – thanks to the attention Guardiola paid to the details.

As they say that all good things come to an end, so did Guardiola’s reign. And last season, Lionel Messi once against succumbed to a series of injuries of relapses. Once he got injured last season, he played only 29% of the minutes Barcelona played. Prior to that he starred in as much as 88%. Ever since his injury, earlier this year, against PSG, in the UEFA Champions League, has hardly played full 90 minutes and such is the dependence that Barca have on him, that a half-fit Leo was brought on to rescue them in the second leg, against the nouveau riche French outfit.

Since April 2013, injuries have plagued Messi and that has been a matter of concern for Barcelona and perhaps this might continue to remain one, till he recovers fully – albeit fans can only hope and pray that it isn’t too late before he gets back to his normal self.

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