Barcelona almost let Lionel Messi leave for free


Barcelona were on the verge of losing their club icon and talisman Lionel Messi ten years back for nothing, reveals Spanish daily sports newspaper AS.

According to the paper, current Barca president Sandro Rosell was prepared to let the Argentine superstar leave the Camp Nou in 2003 when he was in charge of sports operation at the club.

Back in 2003, Barcelona was under severe financial crisis after the mismanagement of former president Joan Gaspart, who is regarded as one of the worst presidents of the club in their history.

Gaspart had spent all the money from the sale of Luis Figo to Real Madrid in buying Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars from Arsenal and Gerard from Valencia but had failed to end Barcelona's trophy drought since 1999.

Following this period of sporting failures and financial crisis, Gaspart was succeeded by Joan Laporta as president and Rosell was made the vice-president of sports by Laporta.

Rosell, who has an MBA degree from ESADE, was mainly tasked with restructuring the financial situation of the club and the then 39-year-old set about his task by letting go of several La Masia prospects in order to cut costs at the club following the signing of Ronaldinho from Paris Saint-Germain that summer.

Among those who were allowed to leave was young 16-year-old Cesc Fabregas who had joined up with Arsenal and Rosell was prepared to allow Messi to follow in his fellow teammate's footsteps and leave Barcelona after Messi's father Jorge's residency permit was set to expire.

Jorge did not want to leave Messi alone in Barcelona and was planning to take the then 16-year-old back with him to Argentina as Rosell unable to come up with the finances required to keep the family in Catalunya.

However, news of Messi's impending departure created a hue and cry among Barcelona's youth team coaches, one among them being former Boca Juniors player Guillermo Hoyos, who worked as a coach with Barcelona B at that time.

Hoyos, who is credited as being one of the coaches who discovered Messi, played an instrumental role in keeping the future star at Camp Nou as it is he who convinced one of his friends, Antoni Vilalta, to employ Jorge so that Messi's father could obtain an extension to his residency permit and stay on at Barcelona with his son.

With the matter being resolved, Messi then went on to feature in a record five different teams in the season 2003-04. He started one match for Juvenil B scoring a goal in that match before getting promoted to Juvenil A where he started 14 matches and scored 21 goals.

He was then promoted to Barcelona C team for whom he played in ten matches scoring five goals and then featured for Barcelona B team for five matches.

In the meantime, he had already made his official debut for the Barca first team aged 16 years and 145 days in a friendly match against Porto on November 2003, barely a couple of months after Rosell was willing to let him leave the club for free.

Rosell today is surely enlightened on how epic a blunder he was about to commit and is not prepared to sell Messi for however much he is offered as he had recently revealed that the Argentine is the one player he would absolutely never allow to leave the Camp Nou.

"All players who want to leave can leave - all but Messi," he had told Sport. "They'd have to give Messi €250 million to pay the LFP clause, then they'll have to pay more than 56 per cent in taxes. This would be about €580 million."

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