Oct. 16, 2004 will forever be remembered as a seminal moment in the history of Barcelona. That was the day that Lionel Messi, a floppy-haired and relatively unknown teenager at the time, made his professional debut for the club in a league game against local rivals Espanyol.
Messi only came on for the final seven minutes, replacing goal scorer Deco as Barca won 1-0 at the Olympic Stadium in the hills of Montjuic. He had little real impact on the game but would go on to make a huge impact on the club.
In the years prior to Messi’s debut — Barca were founded in 1899 and La Liga began in 1929 — the Blaugrana had won 16 league titles, one Champions League and zero Club World Cups. In the years since, they’ve won 10 more league titles, been crowned champions of Europe on another four occasions and have lifted the Club World Cup three times. Meanwhile, Messi has been crowned the world’s best player on six separate occasions and scored more than 600 goals.
It’s a lot to pack into 15 years but by the same token, the time has also flown by. To mark the anniversary of his debut, ESPN writers Jordi Blanco, Moises Llorens and Sam Marsden look back on that day, speaking to those who knew him best at the time and those who were involved in the game.
‘I signed him on a paper napkin … because I couldn’t let him get away’
Before Messi made his official debut, he already had caught the eye in a friendly against Juventus at Camp Nou. However, in a world without social media, there wasn’t as much expectation as there might have been in the modern era. Just how much did people know about Messi at the time?