Lionel Messi has the most sought-after rookie cards among all soccer players. The key to his brilliance is the forwards’ ability to change direction quickly and thus completely befuddle opposing defenders.
Messi has captained Argentina to victory in the 2022 World Cup and confirmed his place at the top of the heap.
What does this mean for his cards? Which of his rookie cards are worth investing in at the current high prices? We have all the answers in our guide to Lionel Messi rookie cards.
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Who is Lionel Messi?
At this point, Messi may be the best-known athlete in the world. But who is he, and how did he get so darn good? The prodigy was born in 1987 in Rosario, Santa Fe, to a working-class family. His father was a steel factory manager, and his mother slaved away in a magnet workshop.
Soccer is basically a religion in Argentina, and Messi’s family is very representative in that regard. Several of his relatives were or currently are professional footballers.
The boy grew up a fanatic fan of local team Newell’s Old Boys, a team named after Englishman Isaac Newell, one of the pioneers of the sport in Argentina. He soon joined their youth team and scored over 500 goals in six years. The ridiculous talent of Lionel Messi was on display from the get-go.
However, every remarkable rags-to-riches story involves overcoming hardship. Messi was diagnosed at age 10 with a growth hormone deficiency. The family tried to find a team to pay for his treatments beyond their meager economic capabilities.
No Argentine team would do it, but luckily Barcelona F.C. showed interest and signed him at age 13 with a guarantee to pay his medical bills.
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That was possibly the best decision Barcelona ever made. At age 17, Messi made his senior team debut after storming through the youth ranks. The following year, he made his way to the Barcelona F.C. starting eleven.
At age 19, Messi was already considered one of the best players in the world. The forward went on to score 474 goals in 520 games for the Catalan team.
He would also become the undisputed star for the Argentina national team, with 98 goals in 172 appearances for La Albiceleste. But while he won league titles and Champions League trophies galore, Messi’s Argentina repeatedly failed in the big tournaments.
They came closest in 2014, when Argentina reached the final, only to fall to Germany. Things started to turn around in 2021 when Messi won his first Copa America title with Argentina.
But his electric performance, at age 35, in the 2022 World Cup was the highlight of an incredible career. With 7 goals in 7 games, the Argentine was the spirit behind a fully deserving world-champion team.
The greatest player of all time
The tremendous Argentine victory at the 2022 Qatar World Cup cemented what we had all suspected for many years: Lionel Messi is the greatest soccer player of all time.
He has won no less than seven Ballon d’Or awards, which is the global M.V.P. for soccer players. That is more than any player in history, with rival Cristiano Ronaldo nabbing five. In addition, he has scored over 750 competitive goals and won the European Golden Shoe for the highest scorer on the continent, a record six times.
The World Cup victory separates him from Ronaldo among the greats. Although, in all fairness, we should note that Cristiano has 520 million Instagram followers to their mere 407 million following the Argentine.
Many believed Diego Maradona or Pele were more significant in the past because they had won the most important trophy, and Messi had not. But now that Messi has equaled them in that regard, his far superior record in club football also sets him apart from those two legends.
As a result, making a case for any other player but Messi is increasingly difficult. He is genuinely the G.O.A.T.
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The best Lionel Messi rookie cards
There is good news and bad news for those looking to get into the market for Messi rookie cards. First, the apparent bad news. His cards were never cheap. And now they will cost more than before.
Second, the good news. Messi is no flash-in-the-pan star with uncertain prospects. He is the greatest player ever to put on a pair of cleats, and his cards will always be valuable.
What contributes more to this is a simple fact that soccer cards weren’t a thing when young Lionel was coming up. So, we are dealing with relatively low numbers of mostly Spanish cards in an era where they were not highly prized.
Messi’s first season as a senior player was 2003-04, but his first entire season came in 2004-05. Therefore, cards from that year are considered his true rookies.
However, there is some leeway in the soccer card world. For example, first cards for major tournaments like the World Cup have also been considered rookie cards of a sort.
Sound confusing? No worries. We will separate the true Messi rookie cards from the pretenders and look at their values as well.
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The true Lionel Messi rookie cards
What do we mean by true? These are the few cards that came out in Messi’s actual senior rookie season of 2003-04. I didn’t include stickers here because there will be a separate section for those.
#617 2004 Mundi Cromo Liga Lionel Messi
Mundi Collections is a small card manufacturer, even by Spanish standards. Indeed, the Murcia-located outfit has since stopped producing soccer cards and now focuses on making toys like these super awesome stretchy monkeys. But first, they created the first-ever Messi pro card and his true rookie.
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And honestly, it’s a great card. The young Messi looks determined, seeming ready to take on the legacy of Barcelona despite his young years. His somewhat awkward shaggy haircut only sharpens the impact of the card. I also love the wavy Barcelona F.C. flag in the upper right-hand corner.
And the good news about this card is that the price is consistently lower than Messi’s better-known Mega Cracks rookie card. But that one is mostly better known because it’s a Panini card rather than any inherent superiority.
Here are the latest sales figures for the 2004 Mundi Cromo Liga Lionel Messi:
Because they aren’t making any more of these babies, and it is a true rookie, these seem like a good investment to me. Right now, many Messi investors are still enthusiastic bro collectors who prefer Panini to other cards and go along with the hype around the Mega Cracks cards.
But soon, he will be the province of vintage collectors. And they may well begin to prefer the true rookie over the more celebrated card. So, if I were going to invest in one Messi card, it would probably be this one.
#71 2004-05 Panini Megacracks Lionel Messi
Though not the first Messi card, this is far away the best-known and most coveted among his rookie offerings. There are two main reasons for its status. First, it is his first release for a major card company.
The hilariously named Megacracks was, and remains, the premier Panini release for La Liga within the Spanish market. Second, it has an indisputably iconic feel and design.
If this sounds weird, it is a fairly common occurrence in the hobby. Unfortunately, the true rookie isn’t always the winner in the popularity sweepstakes.
Think of the Mickey Mantle rookie. You are likely imagining his 1952 Topps card. But Mantle had a 1951 Bowman card with a better claim to iconic status. At least in theory. But the Topps card has a nicer design and is from a more prominent company, so it is worth significantly more.
Will this status last? Probably. Iconic status only gets more cemented with time. But because the true rookie is a beauty, and vintage collectors are more discerning, the gap between the two should lessen over the years.
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If you want to get one, the good news is that because it comes from a more prominent company, there is a larger population for the Megacracks Lionel Messi than for its rivals. So it’s easier to find. But the bad news is that it is still far more expensive.
Here are the latest sales figures for the #71 2004-05 Panini Megacracks Lionel Messi:
As you can see, a PSA10 is already one of those mega cards you can only get through auction houses and the like. A PSA 9 is almost in that category as well. So, get used to this card. It is and will remain one of the icons of the entire hobby and the most recognizable and important soccer card there is.
The Barcelona Megacracks set Lionel Messi cards
Card companies will often issue sets for different teams. If you ever go on the Target website for cards (and I know you do!), you see them hawking that same Tampa Bay Bucs set for the last decade. So, they usually don’t have much value.
But when you come out with one of those sets for Barcelona F.C. during Messi’s rookie year, it’s a different story. The team set included three different Messi cards. To make matters even more exciting, one of those cards is autographed. That makes it the only rookie auto of Messi ever issued.
Unfortunately, these cards are pretty ugly. I mean, that is my very subjective opinion. But my guess is that you will agree. Still, no one is turning down a Messi rookie.
Another thing to note is that each card has two different versions. There is a general Spanish version and a Catalan version. As you may know, Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a district in Spain with a different language and aspirations of autonomy.
So the Catalan version is a bit less common. The prices are slightly higher for the rarer regional version, but the differences are usually not extreme.
The three are:
The card features the same mullet picture you can find on Messi’s rookie sticker. In addition, the word campiones (champions in English for those who no habla español) is emblazoned across the left side.
The prices are fairly reasonable for a Messi rookie card. Unless, of course, you insist on a PSA 10. Here are the prices for the Catalan version:
Shop for #35 Lionel Messi Barcelona Megacracks card on eBay
The #62 has a great young Messi in action picture. But I could do without the unimpressive background and ugly Barcelona color decorations going through the middle. Here are the prices for the Spanish version:
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As you can see, people vastly prefer #35 over #62. I see it.
The first autos for this legendary player are not particularly attractive. The faded picture in the center does little to make it pop. And the signature ain’t much to write home about.
Still, you can’t put a price on a rookie auto for this kind of legend. Oh wait, I guess you can. So how much of a premium do these auto-Messi cards fetch? Here are the prices for the Spanish version:
Shop for #89 of the Lionel Messi Barcelona Megacracks card on eBay
The Catalan version has comparable prices. This seems like a great opportunity. Is a Messi rookie auto available for these low prices? I believe there is a very high chance the value will skyrocket over the next few years. This card seems like a total buy now. I might get one myself.
In general, these Barcelona set Messi cards to offer a good opportunity. They are legit rookie cards and do not have high population numbers. And the auto is one of a kind.
Lionel Messi rookie stickers
There are a few exceptions, like the famous Michael Jordan fleer stickers. However, stickers do not have an important place in American hobbies. But for European and South American soccer fans, the sticker was a vital part of their early collecting experience.
The arrival of the American-style cardboard card is a late, and still not wholly accepted, alternative.
Therefore, for many vintage players, their true rookie is a sticker. You can see our complete guide to vintage soccer rookies here. Messi came from a period when cards were coming into play in Spain, but the sticker was still the norm, especially for young collectors.
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#288 2004-05 Panini Colecciones Este La Liga Lionel Messi
This is the first Messi sticker and has that beautiful tacky appeal the best soccer stickers are known for. It has both a wonderful action photo of the young prodigy and a picture of the guy sporting an unfortunate mullet. It has an awkward rookie sticker written all over it, and I think it’s sensational.
The problem, as always with old-school stickers, is finding one of them in original and unstuck condition. And listen, even if you don’t put one in the album, keeping stickers in good condition is complex. They bend and twist a lot more than standard cards.
So, finding a 2004-05 Panini Colecciones Este La Liga in mint condition isn’t easy. But, of course, as Messi collecting becomes more of a soccer vintage thing, the sticker may increase in value. After all, it’s precisely the kind of thing hardcore soccer fans tend to like.
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Here are the latest sales figures for the #288 2004-05 Panini Colecciones Este La Liga Lionel Messi:
#185 2006 Panini World Cup Sticker Lionel Messi
The Panini World Cup sticker is very special in soccer collection lore. And as we already explained, a player’s first sticker at a major tournament is also considered a rookie. In this case, Messi was also very young, adding to the allure of the card.
Really, the best thing about looking at all these Messi rookie cards is tracking all the terrible haircuts he had in those early years. The bowl haircut monstrosity on this sticker is a real killer.
As always, it’s harder to find this one unstuck and in good condition because it’s a sticker. However, the World Cup stickers are mass-produced and more accessible to find than most of Messi’s early stickers.
If you don’t mind having a stuck version, you can always spring for a completed Panini 2006 World Cup album.
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What price do these stickers go for? Here you go:
Not a bad price for such a historic sticker. The PSA 10s, in particular, probably have a good upside.
#200 2007 Panini Copa America Lionel Messi
According to unofficial soccer hobby rules, any card or sticker from a first big tournament is a rookie. Of a sort. 2007 was Messi’s first appearance in the Copa America, the second biggest regional tournament in the world behind the UEFA Euro.
As I have written before, Copa America stickers are a pretty efficient way of making some money from your soccer hobby. The pop counts are relatively low, and South American merchants sell them for meager prices. I also love the Panini South America aesthetic.
Keep in mind that Lionel has a similar fairytale story in the Copa America as he does at the World Cup. In the 2007 tournament, he led Argentina to the final, where they lost to Brazil 3-0 despite being heavy favorites.
However, in 2021, the diminutive forward finally led his country to glory in an unforgettable victory over Brazil, thus completing a remarkable redemption arc.
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As you can see, the prices are ridiculously low. I don’t know what the future holds for these stickers, but they certainly aren’t going down any time soon. And I couldn’t find a PSA 10 of it. So if you can grade a 10 with the low pop, you will have an absolute gem on your hands.
Best Lionel Messi Autos
As we saw, Messi does have a rookie auto. But it came in a limited edition Megacracks team set. So, there is no pack-pulled auto card from his first season. Or any season for quite a while.
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Because auto cards weren’t really much of a thing in soccer yet, you won’t find any of those until 2013. Which was, of course, well into his world-beating career.
Since then, a dizzying array of gorgeous Messi auto cards have been released. Of course, there is no such thing as a lousy auto from the Argentine genius.
But with a large selection, some are more worthwhile than others. But have no fear. Even if they aren’t rookies, we will look at some of his top auto cards for you.
#S-LME 2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Signatures Lionel Messi Auto
I’m not a massive fan of sticker autos, and you probably aren’t. But this card makes up for it by being Messi’s first World Cup auto card. It is also an aesthetically pleasing one, showcasing a quizzical-looking Messi preparing for the next play in his national uniform.
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The card represents an important crossroads in the player’s career. It is a reminder of that 2014 World Cup when Messi reached the final but was denied glory by Joachim Löw‘s fabulous German team.
Not exactly cheap. But considering it’s his first signature on a World Cup card, and the population is only 65, I expected the damage to be worse.
2015-16 Panini Flawless International Icons Lionel Messi Auto
Are you more of an on-card auto-type? I sure am. If so, this jaw-dropping Flawless card is an excellent place to start. Of course, I’ve seen better designs for the Flawless auto, but the action picture is terrific, and Messi has developed a beautifully quirky signature by this point.
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Here are the prices these cards go for:
As you can see, the number and on-card factor make a huge difference here. It’s one of the most valuable Messi cards on the market.
The final word on Lionel Messi rookie cards
If there was ever any doubt that Lionel Messi was entering the pantheon of all-time greats, the 2022 World Cup dispelled them once and for all. What does that mean for his cards? They have attained that blue-chip stock status.
Now that Messi has achieved everything a soccer player possibly can, the prices will not skyrocket again.
However, those early cards are going to appreciate in value over time. They aren’t making any more of them. And by that, I mean the cards. But also Lionel Messi.
People talk about Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland as heirs. But neither is on track to have a career as monstrous as Messi had. It is hard to say when any soccer player will reach these heights again.
As we showed, some of the earliest Messi cards are underpriced and have a good amount of upside. It is never too late to invest in the GOAT.
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