The finest footballer to have ever laced up his boots, Lionel Messi has enjoyed a glittering career during which the sport of football came to belong practically to him. Over the course of 17 seasons with the Barcelona first team, the diminutive Argentine genius has donned a plethora of kits for the blaugrana, all of which have been manufactured by Nike.
Here, we take a look at five of the very best from across the entire breadth of his remarkable career in Catalonia.
1. 2012/13 Home Shirt
It’s that shirt. You know the one. Forever remembered as the kit Messi wore when he scored 91 goals in a calendar year. By the time December had given way to January, defenders were sick of the sight of it, but another six months of torment remained before the iconic kit reached its expiration date in the summer.
On the design front, Nike eschewed Barcelona’s historic template of bold blue and garnet stripes (from when they derive their nickname blaugrana) and instead opted for a gentler, more subtle design, blurring the demarcations between each block of colour and offering a stark contrast to the notably ‘busy’ shirt they had donned for the 2011/12 campaign when Messi had begun his 91-goal onslaught.
Reception at the time was generally positive, and though the club suffered defeats in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, its reputation has only burgeoned over time thanks to its association with Messi’s superhuman season.
2. 2004/05 Home Shirt
It was the kit in which a 17-year-old Messi made his debut back in an era where Total 90s were ubiquitous and Ronaldinho reigned as king in the court of Camp Nou.
The bold blue and garnet stripes for which Barcelona are famed now extended to the sleeves and neckline, replacing the black versions that had existed in the season prior, while in keeping with Barcelona’s club values at the time, the front remained without a sponsor to sully the classic design.
A popular collector’s item given its significance, Messi may well have scored far more goals in other shirts, but perhaps none are as important as this one – the very first.
3. 2010/11 Home Shirt
The 2010/11 shirt is synonymous with that year’s Champions League final where a devastating Barcelona side – inspired by the constant menace of Messi – emphatically dismantled Manchester United in a display that left the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson uncharacteristically lost for words.
After flirtations with gold accents in 2007, Nike embraced this third colour and featured it prominently in the form of a smart neckline and trim around the sleeves. Having adopted Unicef as their main sponsor, the logo of the charitable organisation was emblazoned similarly in gold lettering, as Nike proved shirt sponsors need not detract from the overall beauty of a shirt.
That Messi scored 53 goals and helped the club to a continental double while clad in it only heightened its subsequent reputation.
4. 2008/09 Home Shirt
Given Barcelona’s propensity for bold stripes, the 2008/09 saw the first departure from this formula since the 1999/00 shirt. Once again, Nike opted to employ a striking half-and-half design but without the black trim that had accompanied their previous effort at the turn of the century.
This resulted in a simple, instantly classic design. No frills, nothing to detract from the overall aesthetic. It was in this shirt that Messi first ascended from beyond the realm of prodigy and into the dominion of world class footballer. It marked the first time he broke the 30-goal barrier, as he propelled the club to previously unattainable heights. By the end of the season, Barcelona had completed the Treble, while by the end of the calendar year that had achieved an unprecedented sextuple.
Perhaps few shirts are more ‘Messi’ than the half-and-half 2008/09 design.
5. 2019/20 Away Shirt
The only away shirt to make the list, the 2019/20 edition – of which the chequered home shirt firmly divided opinion – became a firm fan favourite and successfully encapsulated the feeling of Catalan pride at a time of notable unrest in the autonomous community thanks to the sentencing of Catalan independence leaders in the Spanish Supreme Court.
Featuring a crisp gold palette offset with a clean blue and garnet sash, even the Rakuten sponsor managed to look not entirely out of place on a shirt that was, in reality, worn perilously few times during a campaign to forget for Barcelona. Despite his scintillating form, as Messi continued his evolution from rampaging inverted winger to roving playmaker, the club finished the season without silverware for the first time in six years.
Although perhaps not the most obvious shirt to be associated with Messi, its clean and minimalist design remains popular to this day.
You can see my current stock of Barcelona shirts for sale here.