Messi was born in Rosario, Santa Fe Province, to parents Jorge Horácio Messi, a factory steel worker, and Celia María Cuccittini, a part-time cleaner. His paternal family originates from the Italian city of Ancona, from which his ancestor, Angelo Messi, emigrated to Argentina in 1883.
He has two older brothers, Rodrigo and Matías, and a sister, María Sol. At the age of five, Messi started playing football for Grandoli, a local club coached by his father Jorge. In 1995, Messi switched to Newell's Old Boys who were based in his home city Rosario.
At the age of 11, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. Local powerhouse River Plate showed interest in Messi's progress, but did not have enough money to pay for treatment for his condition, which cost $900 a month. Carles Rexach, the sporting director of FC Barcelona, had been made aware of his talent as Messi had relatives in Lleida and Messi and his father were able to arrange a trial with the team.
Rexach, with no other paper at hand, offered Messi a contract written on a paper napkin. Barcelona offered to pay for Messi's medical bills if he was willing to move to Spain. Messi and his father moved to Barcelona where Messi enrolled in the club's youth academy.
By the age of 21, Messi had received Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year nominations. The following year in 2009 he won both the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year, and won the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or in 2010 and 2011. He also won the 2010–11 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award. Messi is the fourth football player to win three Ballons d'Or, after Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten and the second player to win three consecutive Ballons d'Or, after Michel Platini. His playing style and small stature have drawn comparisons to Diego Maradona, who himself declared Messi as his "successor". He is consistently cited by football pundits, managers, fellow players and many football fans as the best contemporary player in the world.
Messi has won five La Liga titles and three Champions League titles. In 2012, Messi made UEFA Champions League history by becoming the first player to score five goals in one match, in a 7–1 win against Bayer Leverkusen. With two goals in the next round against Milan, he matched José Altafini's record of 14 goals in a single Champions League season. He also became the first player to top-score in four successive Champions League campaigns. He set the world record for most goals scored in a season during the 2011–12 season, with 73 goals.
Messi was the top scorer of the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship with six goals. In 2006, he became the youngest Argentine to play in the FIFA World Cup and he won a runners-up medal at the Copa América tournament the following year, in which he was elected young player of the tournament. In 2008, he won his first international honour, an Olympic gold medal, with the Argentina Olympic football team.