His progression had started to get him noticed by manager Frank Rijkaard who promoted him along with a handful of players to to train with his injury depleted first team. His performances in these training sessions led teammate Ludovic Giuly to remark that "Even the team's starting centre-backs were nervous. They would go in hard on him, but he took it in. He was an alien. He killed us all." At just sixteen years and four months Messi made his unofficial debut for the first team in the friendly vs Porto. ⠀
While continuing to train once weekly with the first team Messi was moved full time from the Juvenile sides into the senior set up, training and playing with the Barcelona B team, while also representing Barcelona C in a number of games.⠀
His rapid rise would be rewarded with his first professional contract in February 2004, the contract included a €30 million release clause that a month later rose to €80 million upon his first appearance in the Segunda Division for Barca’s B team. ⠀
He finished the 03/04 season having scored 36 goals in competitive matches and by the beginning of the next season he would be featuring regularly in the first team set up after making his league debut, reportedly at the behest of many in the Barcelona first team, in October 2004.
Words by Andy Gallagher