The 2007-08 campaign was one to forget at Camp Nou.
A 3rd place finish in La Liga was compounded by defeat in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals by eventual winners Manchester United. With Ronaldinho’s decline in full flow, the Frank Rijkaard era was over.
Pep Guardiola’s ascension to the managerial hot-seat in 2008 ushered in a promising new era and Messi’s star was set to shine even brighter.
Guardiola gave the new No.10 creative licence to cut inside and roam the centre like never before. A historic treble of La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League was secured in 2008-09, with Messi’s header in the latter final securing a 2-0 win over holders Manchester United in Rome.
Although the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic briefly threatened to usurp the Argentine’s prominence in the side, Messi ultimately became the focal point in Guardiola’s starting XI. This was evident in Barcelona’s Champions League Quarter-Final tie against Arsenal when Messi’s four-goal haul carried the Catalans into the semis. And although disappointment lay in wait against Inter Milan, the La Liga title was retained in 2009-10 with only one defeat in 38 games.
As remarkable as it may have seemed at the time, the best was still to come.
Jose Mourinho may have been installed as the new Real Madrid coach, but Barcelona were almost untouchable in 2010-11. Dominant once again in La Liga, Los Cules thrashed their rivals 5-0 in Mourinho’s first Clasico before the rivals were pitted in four games in the space of 18 days in April 2011.
Real may have got the upper-hand in the Copa Del Rey final, but Messi orchestrated an unforgettable 2-0 win at the Bernabeu in the first leg of their Champions League Semi-Final meeting. His second goal still makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up to this day – a slaloming dribble past three Real players – is arguably one of the competition’s best ever goals.
More was to come in the final as Messi produced another man of the match performance in a comprehensive 3-1 win over Manchester United, with his goal the 53rd in a stunning season for player and club.
The records kept tumbling the following season as the man from Rosario scored an astonishing 73 goals in all competitions, which included an eye-watering 10(!) hat-tricks that saw him become the club’s all-time top scorer. All of which came in spite of Barca’s mixed 2011-12 campaign that saw Guardiola quit after the loss of their domestic and European crowns.
Mixed fortunes were to follow as managerial changes, and another spate of injuries for Messi, hampered Barcelona even though he still posted an incredible 60 and 41-goal returns in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
Another memorable season lay in wait even if the beginning was inauspicious. Now under the stewardship of Luis Enrique, a storming second half of 2014-15 led to another treble for the Blaugrana with Messi integral yet again as part of the newly-formed ‘MSN’ in attack alongside Luis Suarez and Neymar.
More goals and further trophies may have been attained in the years since, but those seven seasons discussed above were the peak for whom many consider the greatest of all time.
MESSI ALL COMPS (FC BARCELONA)
Season Apps Goals Goals per game Hat-tricks
2008-09 51 38 0.75 1
2009-10 53 47 0.89 4
2010-11 55 53 0.96 4
2011-12 60 73 1.22 10
2012-13 50 60 1.20 2
2013-14 46 41 0.89 4
2014-15 57 58 1.02 6
Total 372 370 0.99 31
Club honours won from 2008-15:
La Liga – 5
Supercopa de Espana – 4
UEFA Champions League – 3
UEFA Super Cup – 3
FIFA Club World Cup – 3
Copa Del Rey – 3
Selected Individual honours won from 2008-15:
FIFA Ballon D’Or – 5
European Golden Shoe – 3
Pichichi Trophy – 3
UEFA Men’s Player of the Year – 2
FIFA World Player of the Year – 1