Africa-Press – Ghana. The legend of Lionel Messi at Barcelona needs no explaining. 778 games, 672 goals, 303 assists and a rise to GOAT status.
He was the arch nemesis of Real Madrid from when he joined in 2000 until his departure in 2021, but things could have been very different if Los Blancos hadn’t hesitated over the chance to sign Messi first.
Writing for Le Parisien, Guillem Balague recalled a moment in 2001 when Messi could have left Barcelona over a financial dispute.
Messi, who was just 14 at the time, had a contract worth 100m pesetas per season (€6,000 or £5,000 in today’s money). That was deemed excessive by new sporting director Javier Perez Farguell, who wanted to tie Messi down to a lesser deal.
“Who does he think he is? Maradona? Let’s stop this and let him return to Argentina,” an influential figure inside Camp Nou is quoted as saying at the time.
It looked like negotiations between Messi and Barcelona were going to break down. The Blaugrana were arguing that they were not allowed to offer children so much money, despite never mentioning that when they first signed him. Over in Madrid, Real chief Jorge Valdano was keeping a very close eye on things.
Real were ready to pay Messi more money and meet his demands, but Valdano declined to make a formal offer as they didn’t want to get into a transfer battle with Barcelona. Instead, he tried to convince Messi to force his way out of Camp Nou, and that didn’t work.
Just like that, the chance to sign Messi was gone.
It’s something Real never really got over. Fast-forward to 2017 and Los Blancos were again considering a move for Messi as a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, who was in a contract stand-off with the club.
Perez told Ronaldo that he had enough money to pay his own release clause to get out if he was so unhappy, vowing to reinvest that cash in Messi if the chance arose. Obviously, it didn’t, and the chance to sign Messi would slip away forever.