The dividing line between success and failure in the world of top-level football can be cruelly thin. Leo Messi, I’m almost certain, would have gone on to make it at the highest levels even if Barcelona had decided against signing him, but this extract from my biography on ‘the Flea’ shows just how huge a part luck can play in the best laid plans of any aspiring professional footballer, including the diminutive genius from Rosario de Santa Fe, who went on to become the best player in the world – Guillem Balagué
Ten days after the Messis’ arrival at Barcelona, there was little more to see of the city. No more to know about him as a footballer. Everything was done. He had taken nearly two weeks off school and that had never been part of the plan. It was clear that any club would have wanted Leo but this was a unique experience for Barcelona and no one wanted to take the risk: they had to wait for Charly. Jorge was ready to return hom. ‘Stay one more day, Rexach will be back on Monday,’ he was told The president’s adviser finally arrived from Sydney and met up with Rifé. There were a number of issues, among them the matter of the Argentinian boy. ‘Play him in an older group, two years older. I want to see how it unfolds when he plays with the bigger boys,’ said Rexach. Charly Rexach: I got involved as as to give my casting vote, because if those under me had said ‘let’s sign him’ then I wouldn’t have come down.
The final trial was set to take place on 2 October. At six in the evening. Instead of the clay surface where he had played most of the time, this would take place on pitch three, the artificial surface located behind the bowling alley. Facing the Mini Stadium. The moment had come. There was no going back. The following day Leo and Jorge were to return to Argentina. Leo, all one metre forty-eight centimetres of him, was to face youngsters two years older than him. The game started. And Charly Rexach still hadn’t arrived. He was coming late after a lunch. Recently back from Australia, he was between time zones. Two minutes later, Charly climbs up the stetps leading to the pitch.
Charly Rexach: I did the usual; walked about a bit, and stopped when I saw him get the ball.
Rexach comes through the door, passes the corner flag and goes behind the goal.
Charly Rexach: He was easy to spot, because he was tiny, quite a sight, no?
Messi gets the ball in the centre of the pitch and starts to dribble towards whoever stands in his way.
Jorge Messi: Carlos (Charly) came in and Leo made a move.
Charly Rexach: Like I said; I went behind the goal, and kept walking…
Leo dribbles past two, rounds the goalkeeper. Scores.
Jorge Messi: Great play. Goal!
It was their only goal of the game that Leo’s team ended up losing 2-1.
Rexach gets to the substitutes’ bench – not the first but the second – where all the coaches are gathered.
Charly Rexach: It took me seven or eight minutes to complete the lap. I went to sit down on the bench and…
Ten mintes after he had arrived, Charly Rexach left pitch number three. He had sat dwon for a couple of minutes on the youth coaches’ bench, turned around and gone out again the way he had come in.
All that waiting. And he hardly saw a thing.
Jorge Messi thought Rexach had not given Leo the attention he deserved after the journey, the days of waiting. Had Charly noticed the couple of things that Messi did? Jorge was asking himself. Surely that was enough to keep him at the cluib. Hopefully. At the end of the game, Leo said nothing. Always quiet, he just listened.
Guillem’s authorised book on Messi is available from Amazon