After the Argentinian forward brought up his 400th goal in an FC Barcelona shirt on Saturday, UEFA.com tracks the development of Lionel Messi's Blaugrana role over the last decade.
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After Lionel Messi scored his 400th goal for FC Barcelona on Saturday in a vital 2-0 win against Valencia CF, UEFA.com looks at how the Argentinian's role in the Catalan side has changed since he scored his first goal for the club, just under a decade ago.
On the right with Rijkaard
The Dutch coach handed a 17-year-old Messi his debut at RCD Espanyol on 16 October 2004, replacing Deco on the right wing, and he scored his first goal for the first team on 1 May 2005, against Albacete Balompié. He grew into the role the following season at the expense of Ludovic Giuly, and then truly exploded in 2006/07, perfecting his dribbles and realising his speed. That season he netted his first hat-trick, on the biggest stage of all against Real Madrid CF, and a month later confirmed his greatness by scoring after a sensational slaloming run from the halfway line against Getafe CF.
Guardiola's shift to centre
Rijkaard had hinted before that Messi's future lay in a more central role, behind the striker, but Josep Guardiola's plans for the Argentinian were even more innovative. The coach made Messi a 'false nine' during a title-decider with Madrid, and the experiment could not have worked better, with central defenders Christoph Metzelder and Fabio Cannavaro left flummoxed by Messi's positioning as Barça romped to a 6-2 win.
There was no going back after that sensational display, and it was from the centre that Messi took his already impressive goalscoring tally to a new level – netting an incredible 173 goals in the next three seasons as Barcelona won a total of 14 trophies under Guardiola.
Sharing the duties
Although Messi continued to score goals for fun under Tito Vilanova and Gerardo Martino, an unfortunate run of hamstring injuries contributed to a slight dip in form, even if only by his sensationally high standards. New coach Luis Enrique also recognised that a change was needed and employed Messi back on the right, with new signing Luis Suárez instead playing through the middle, and Neymar excelling in his second season with the club out on the left of the attack. This season we have seen Messi play a deeper role and combine with his fellow forwards more than ever before.
Barça's front three boast a frightening total of 93 goals and 35 assists this season, but Messi has been providing the bulk of both, scoring 46 times and contributing 20 assists. "I started this season differently and now I feel good," said Messi. "We are making the most of Ney and Luis because they are both world-class figures. They give us not just goals but also plenty of other things." Gerard Piqué has also been impressed: "I've never before seen a relationship like the one between Luis, Ney and Leo. Being a footballer always goes hand in hand with a certain amount of egotism, but those three really do have a special relationship."