Barcelona superstars Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta could have joined Scottish side Rangers on season-long loan deals during the 2004-05 campaign, according to excerpts from Graham Hunter's Barca book recounted on Goal.com.
The thought of the Barcelona duo plying their trade at Ibrox sounds like the kind of thing normally reserved for the world of Football Manager, but it came closer to reality than you might think.
Rangers manager Alex McLeish asked his assistant Jan Wouters to enquire about the availability of any of Barcelona's young talents back during the 2003-04 season.
At the time Messi and Iniesta were beginning to make names for themselves in Spanish football circles, and the Catalan club were considering whether to send them out on loan to gain first-team experience.
Wouters knew Henk ten Cate, Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard's assistant, and asked about Messi, but Rijkaard's assistant thought the Argentinian starlet was probably still to young to stand up to the rigours of Scottish football.
Instead, ten Cate advised Rangers to make a formal loan offer for Iniesta, a player tipped to be 'a world beater' by ten Cate.
McLeish said: "Ten Cate and Jan Wouters had chats about us taking Messi on loan, but the guidance from Henk was that he was probably too young and possibly too slight to get benefit from Scottish football.
"We caught them just in the middle of that process of working out what they wanted to do with Messi, but during the discussions Henk said to Jan that we should do ourselves a favour and take Iniesta on loan instead."
The Scottish side attempted to do just that towards the end of the 2004-05 season, but the Spaniard had just scored in a high-profile pre-season game, and Barcelona decided against loaning him out after all.
Messi was just beginning to make a name for himself, dominating Barcelona youth teams games, and the 18-year-old was on the cusp of the first team. Iniesta would have been a 21-year-old on the fringes of the first-team set-up.
The remarkable story is told in the updated version of Graham Hunter's Barcelona book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World.
The critically acclaimed book details the origins of the great Barcelona team of the last half a decade, and the rise of Messi and Iniesta to their current level as world-class players.
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