Lionel Messi is one of those footballers who will always be remembered as more than just a player.
In the fifteen years that have elapsed since his debut, the Argentine forward has become more of a way of life, with countless future generations looking up to him as the ultimate bar.
Those future generations will do so for good reason, with Messi continuing to defy age during the past year.
Notably, between August 2019 and March 2020, Messi had averaged 1.9 goals per-win in La Liga, with his last three goal scoring league matches seeing him decisively net the opener.
Among them stood hat tricks against Mallorca and Celta Vigo, which was followed up by a quadruple against SD Eibar, further boosting his rate of league goals per-win.
Impressive though hat-tricks and quadruples are, it is often the quality of goals that can truly change history.
With 438 top-flight strikes up to March 2020, Messi has scored every type of goal imaginable, but there are three which Messi scored in his earlier Barcelona days that stick out as iconic, having since changed the very nature of the sport in their own way.
1. vs Albacete – May 2005
There is nothing quite like the first time, and Lionel Messi’s first goal was a true sign of his ability to read the body language of his elite peers. Back in 2005, Ronaldinho was the king of Catalonia, and if there was a pass to be played, no opponent stood a chance against the toothy Brazilian. He played Messi in on goal with a chipped through-ball, and Messi converted it expertly with a cheeky chip having made the necessary run… only to be flagged offside.
The wait for his first goal would be a short one though, and it was practically a carbon copy of the disallowed attempt, with Messi playing a one-two with Ronaldinho and chipping the ball past Albacete goalkeeper Raul Valbuena.
While this type of goal was a common sight at the Camp Nou stadium, the fame it has since gained has underlined the importance of wide midfielders like Ronaldinho finding space between the defensive lines to allow room for one-two passing.
Today, midfielders with such abilities are taken for granted across Europe, but with a player of Messi’s intelligence up front, the potential damage they can cause to opposing defences is phenomenal.
2. vs Real Madrid – March 2007
In 2017, a whole twelve years on from that strike against Albacete, Messi would make the top-ten rich list of athletes across the entire world.
Though attaining such a standing mattered little to Messi himself, it is still a benchmark for lifetime achievement, and his exquisite goal was the first step in his route to inclusion within that hallowed list.
So too was his treble against Real Madrid at the age of just 19, back in March 2007, and scoring an El Clasico hat-trick at a relatively tender age was the clearest sign yet of what Messi would go on to produce.
While Messi’s most famous hat-trick of recent times is his 50th in all competitions (scored in February 2019), the final component of his legendary El Clasico treble was one that gave the rest of La Liga the most food for thought.
Ronaldinho’s through-ball enabling Messi to deceive his marker with the first touch.
Messi then launched the killer attack with his second touch, his third took him into the area, and his fourth drilled the ball low past Iker Casillas for the final equaliser.
The feat was made all the more impressive by the fact that Barcelona played the entire second half with ten men, following Oleguer’s 45th minute dismissal for a second bookable offence.
In turn, the league was given a stark demonstration of how a team can adapt after its original formation has been disrupted, simply by playing to the strengths of a key man up front.
Messi’s record in La Liga Clasicos as it stood in March 2020.
3. vs Real Zaragoza – March 2010
Messi took this opportunity with aplomb, firstly winning out in a physical tussle with Ander Herrera, before beating two more players through on-the-ball skill alone, jinking through to slot the ball past Juan Pablo Carrizo.
While not quite the amazing 60-yard, one-man show produced by comparative compatriot Diego Maradona back in 1986, there were certainly shades of it in the way he beat multiple opponents with ease.
Tactically, there is little coaches can do to try and make this more of a regularity, or combat it.
Even so, the way in which Zaragoza were punished for their naïve man-marking game makes this goal a champion for the zonal marking strategy being emulated beyond Spanish shores – albeit to differential levels of success in, for instance, the Premier League or Serie A.