LIONEL MESSI

Born: June 24, 1987 in Rosario, Argentina

Position: Midfielder, winger

Nickname: Leo, La Pulga (The Flea)

Clubs played for: Messi began his soccer journey with the youth team of Rosario side Newell's Old Boys but he didn't remain at home for long. The slight-framed winger overcame a growth hormone deficiency to gain a tryout with Spanish side Barcelona, who agreed to foot his medical bills if he signed with the club. Messi made his debut for the Catalan club in the Spanish league on Oct. 16, 2004 (at 17 years and 114 days of age). Since then, his reputation has skyrocketed, establishing himself as the best player on the planet, helping Barcelona win three league championships and a pair of UEFA Champions League titles along the way.

International career: Messi guided Argentina to victory at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup, winning tournament MVP honours and finishing as the competition's top goal-scorer. From there, he graduated to the senior team, making his debut in 2005 when he was still only 18. Prominent performances for his country followed at the 2006 World Cup and the 2007 Copa America, but success didn't come until the 2008 Beijing Games when he helped Argentina win the gold medal.

Why is he so special? Diego Maradona labelled Messi is his "successor," based on his skill and playing style. The Argentine ace has it all: speed, vision, a blistering shot, sublime passing skills, deft dribbling and the ability to make the impossible look routine.

His most famous moment: On April 18, 2007 in a Copa del Ray (Spanish Cup) game, Messi deftly slalomed between a handful of Getafe players before bursting into the penalty box and slyly slotted the ball home in a virtual carbon copy of Diego Maradona's famous "Goal of the Century" from the 1986 World Cup.

He said it: "I want to avoid comparisons [with Maradona] because for me there has never been anyone quite like him."

What they're saying about him: "I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi" -Diego Maradona

Here's an interesting fact: In an incredibly rare sign of respect from Real Madrid fans, Messi received a standing ovation following Barcelona's 6-2 win over Los Blancos on May, 2009 at Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium.