As Lionel Messi collected a pass from his FC Barcelona teammate Pedri in the 65th minute of a league match against Real Valladolid on 22 December 2020, a piece of football history was about to be made. Messi shifted the ball from his right foot to his left before arrowing a shot across the opposition goalkeeper into the net.
This was his 644th goal for FC Barcelona, breaking a record that had stood for 46 years — and that many had thought unbreakable: namely, the number of goals scored in competitive matches by a single player for a single club. The previous record had been held by the Brazilian great Pelé, who scored 643 goals for Santos FC.
Between 19 and 30 April, the boots worn by Messi on that historic night in Valladolid are being offered in an online charity auction at Christie’s. Proceeds from the sale will go to Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona — specifically, to its Arts and Health project for ill children.
‘Achieving the record of 644 goals for the same club made me very happy,’ says Messi, ‘but the most important thing is being able to give something back to all the kids fighting for their health.
‘I hope April’s auction serves to raise awareness about this great cause, and I’d like to thank everyone for supporting a cause so important to me.’
The boots in question are a pair of adidas Nemeziz Messi 19.1s, both of them signed by Messi. They are also customised with the name of his wife, Antonela Roccuzzo, printed on them; likewise the names and dates of birth of his three children, Thiago, Mateo and Ciro.
The footballer initially donated the boots to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona, where they were on display for a month earlier this year.
‘Lionel Messi is a sporting icon, and the boots being offered represent a defining moment in his career’ — specialist Dominic Thurlow-Wood
After consultation with Messi and adidas, the museum has now decided to sell the pair to raise money for the Arts and Health project it runs in collaboration with Vall d’Hebron. This involves research into — and encouragement of — the therapeutic benefits of the arts on sick children.
‘The sale proceeds will help us continue to improve the health of many children and their families through the arts,’ says Dr. Albert Salazar, the hospital’s managing director. ‘The generosity of Lionel Messi and adidas will allow us to initiate further projects related to Arts and Health, which are proven to have meaningful impact.’
Born in 1987 in the city of Rosario, Argentina, Messi showed his excellence from an early age and was signed by the European giants FC Barcelona aged 13. He trained at La Masia, the club’s famed youth academy, before making his competitive debut for the senior side aged 17, late in 2004. His first goal came in May the following year.
Messi’s record-breaking 644 goals were scored in 749 games across a period of 15 and a half years. Regarded by many as the greatest footballer of all time, he has inspired numerous artists, poets and film-makers.
‘No one plays with as much joy as Messi does’ — football writer Eduardo Galeano
In 2011, the Uruguayan novelist and eminent football writer Eduardo Galeano said that ‘no one plays with as much joy as Messi does… He plays like a child enjoying the pasture: playing for the pleasure of playing, not for the duty of winning.’
Messi has still managed to win a huge number of trophies, though. His time at Barcelona has been one of constant success, with 10 league titles, six Copa del Rey triumphs and four European Champions League victories.
On an individual level, Messi has won the prestigious Ballon d’Or — an annual award given to the world’s top footballer — on six occasions, more than any other player.
‘Lionel Messi is a sporting icon, and the boots being offered represent a defining moment in his celebrated career,’ says Dominic Thurlow-Wood, head of sale at Christie’s. ‘We’re delighted to support his fantastic gesture in aid of Barcelona’s Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, and we hope that the global footballing community will be inspired to participate in aid of this wonderful cause.’
Messi’s relationship with adidas has lasted most of his career. He has worn the German brand’s boots exclusively since 2006, and all six of his Ballon d’Or wins have been achieved during this period.
In 2015, the company began the practice of naming a range of boots after him, with the adidas Messi 15. This was followed the next year by the adidas Messi 16 — and, more recently, by the adidas Nemeziz Messi 19 range, of which the record-breaking 19.1 boots are part.
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‘For more than three years, Vall d’Hebron and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya have been working together to research therapeutic benefits obtained through the arts,’ says Josep Serra, the museum’s director.
‘Thanks to Lionel Messi, the funds raised through this auction will allow researchers and teachers to look beyond already successful therapies and introduce new ones.’