It was Ronaldinho who first told the world that Lionel Messi was a genuine phenomenon.
Back in 2005, he told FourFourTwo magazine that he couldn’t be the best footballer in the world because he wasn’t even the best player at Barcelona.
He said Lionel Messi was, despite the fact the young Argentine was still somewhat of an unknown quantity among your average football fan at the time.
People knew he was a talent with lots of potential but Ronaldinho’s comments seemed overly modest, rather than realistic.
Here we are 14 years later and Messi, now 32, is regarded by many as the greatest footballer of all time.
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We only got to see Ronaldinho and Messi together on the pitch in Barça shirts for a few seasons.
But they had a great connection both on and off the pitch.
Ronaldinho was like Messi’s big brother when he broke into the Barça first team. The Brazilian took the Argentine under his wing and even set up his first goal for the Catalan giants.
However, their working relationship came to an end in 2008, when Pep Guardiola was appointed the team’s new head coach.
Despite the fact that Ronaldinho and Deco were both popular inside the dressing room and among the fans, Guardiola controversially decided to sell both players as soon as he arrived.
Ronaldinho went to AC Milan, while Deco was offloaded to Chelsea.
For both players, this was the beginning of the end of their careers.
Barça, meanwhile, went on to dominate under Guardiola with Messi now the team’s main man.
The Barcelona team of the Guardiola era (2008-2012) might just be the greatest club side we’ve ever seen.
One of Guardiola’s first signings was Alexander Hleb, the Belarus international who signed from Arsenal.
The attacking midfielder failed to shine at the Camp Nou and didn’t play alongside either Ronaldinho or Deco.
However, he has sensationally claimed that Barcelona axed the two former stars because they were afraid for Messi after Ronaldinho and Deco turned up to training drunk.
“Ronaldinho and Deco came to training drunk,” Hleb has told V OKA TV, per Goal.
“That’s why Ronaldinho and Deco were sold in 2008. Because they were afraid that they would bring down Lionel Messi.”
If that’s true, it’s entirely understandable why Guardiola got rid of the pair of them.
Turning up to training drunk is just about as unprofessional as it gets.
Guardiola and the powers that be at Camp Nou obviously felt that Messi may have been led astray by Ronaldinho and Deco had they been allowed to stay.
Selling them may have been the best decision Guardiola ever made.
“Frankly, I initially did not want to go to Barcelona at all,” Hleb added. “I wanted to go to Bayern Munich or stay at Arsenal. But the agents were telling me to go as it was Guardiola who was calling.
“When I moved to Barca, I lived with Thierry Henry for a while. He said to me: ‘Stay until you find something. What is in the hotel? It’s boring’. And so I spent a month with him.
“He always said to me: ‘Why did you go to Barca?! Well, call me, I would explain everything!'”