Poch: Messi nearly my Espanyol teammate

Poch: Messi nearly my Espanyol teammate

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino has said he nearly became a teammate of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi at Espanyol in 2005.

Pochettino, whose side face Barca in the Champions League on Wednesday, revealed that Messi had been close to moving to Espanyol before staying at the Camp Nou.

“I started to hear about him when I was at Espanyol — a small guy playing in the academy in Barcelona,” Pochettino said.

“He arrived when he was 13 years old, going from Argentina to Barcelona. Then I heard he was so close to signing for Espanyol — very close — in the season Barcelona played against Juventus under [Fabio] Capello in the Joan Gamper Cup.

“Because he was so fantastic in the Joan Gamper, Capello praised him afterwards and they changed the decision and kept Messi at Barcelona.

“So if you look back in history, maybe if he didn’t play in the Joan Gamper that summer, maybe today he could have been the biggest star in Espanyol and Espanyol could be Barcelona.

“We would have been teammates, and maybe I would have still been in Espanyol managing him!”

Pochettino played for Espanyol when Messi made his first-team debut the previous year but said: “Messi would start to become a great player but, in the moment that he made his debut, it was another youngster that had arrived to the Barcelona team from the academy.

“You say to me, you played in Messi’s debut… No, I don’t remember it.”

Pochettino, who like Messi began his career at Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, said it was impossible to make a plan to stop him and told his players to relish the challenge.

Messi has scored 103 Champions League goals, more than any other player, and has eight hat tricks in the competition.

“I’m not going to try to find a solution,” Pochettino said. “I’m going to say to my players: ‘Enjoy playing against Messi because you are going to have the opportunity to play against one of the best players in the history of football.’

“More than worrying you, that needs to excite you. This is the type of player that you are going to remember. For your ego, it’s a thing that you are going to tell your kids and grandkids.

“It’s difficult to find solutions to try to stop him, I promise you. I think it’s impossible. It’s only about enjoying it, being close, helping the players that are going to face him to stay close and, when you have the ball, trying to have possession, to play in the opposite half, to try to push Leo to play far from your goal.”

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