“I start early and I stay late, day after day, year after year; it took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success.” So said Lionel Messi in a television advert in 2012, recalling his ascent to greatness at Barcelona. Now 32 and in the autumn of his career, the diminutive striker – nay, footballing God – continues to score at an unthinkable rate of almost a goal a game and could yet add to the 34 club titles (10 La Ligas; 6 Copa del Reys; 8 Supercopa de Españas; 4 Champions Leagues; 3 Uefa Super Cups; 3 Fifa Club World Cups) and six Ballon d’Ors he has accumulated over the years. This photograph was taken in Rome in 2009 when Messi inspired Barcelona to a 2-0 victory over Manchester United in the Champions League final. The boyish delight etched across his face makes this a gem of a picture and fuels my admiration for his evergreen talents. Messi growing old and retiring? No thanks.

Photograph: Tom Jenkins / The Guardian

Words: Jonny Weeks

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