Speaking to Shortlist - according to the Mirror - Messi was asked to name which English players he felt could thrive in La Liga.
And, without hesitating, the four-time Ballon d'Or winner named Rooney before hailing the England international's quality.
Article continues below
"If you look at the technical ability of a player like Wayne Rooney, he is as good as any player in Europe," Messi commented. "Rooney has exceptional quality. Not just great technical ability, but also works very hard for his team. I'm sure Manchester United will never want to let him leave, though."
Rooney was once widely considered as one of the world's best players, particularly during his early years with Manchester United.
Article continues below
Rooney is a long way behind Messi and Ronaldo
Hugely exciting as a teenager, massive things were expected of Rooney who, despite having enjoyed a brilliant career, has perhaps failed to scale the heights many presumed he would 12 years ago.
It's unlikely Rooney's name would be mentioned in a discussion to name the world's current third-best footballer - in truth, he would be lucky to make a top 10 list - but that wasn't always the case.
The unbelievable form of Lionel Messi and his former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo over the past seven or eight years has, to an extent, reflected badly upon Rooney.
Gap has widened over the years
At one point there was very little to separate the three players - but the gap between the England striker and the world's two best players has widened with each passing year.
Rooney has scored 247 club career goals and is on course to become the top goalscorer in the histories of both Manchester United and England - a undeniably magnificent achievement.
But Ronaldo has scored 436 career goals - almost 200 more - while Messi, who is younger than both Ronaldo and Rooney, has netted 423 goals in his career.
Messi has won the Ballon d'Or - the award which separates the great players from the truly great players - on four occasions, while Ronaldo won it for the third time back in January.
Rooney, meanwhile, has never come that close to winning the prestigious individual accolade. Back in 2011, he finished in fifth place behind Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Messi has always spoken well of Rooney in the past - and vice-versa - but to claim he's still up there with the world's very best players is perhaps a little generous.
Is Wayne Rooney still one of the world's best players? Have your say in the comments below!