Mauricio Pochettino has revealed Lionel Messi nearly became his teammate at Espanyol in 2005.
As an 18-year-old, Messi wasn’t seen as a guaranteed future starter for Barcelona, and Pochettino says his countryman almost left the Nou Camp for Catalan rivals Espanyol.
Pochettino was still playing for Espanyol at the time and went on to manage the club in 2009.
And the Argentinian, with tongue firmly in cheek, says Espanyol could have been enjoyed the same success as Barcelona had Messi joined them.
“I remember that summer, he was so close to moving to Espanyol,” Pochettino said (via the Guardian) ahead of Tottenham’s meeting with Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday night.
“If he did, maybe he could have been the biggest star in Espanyol. We should be the Barcelona! He would have been my teammate and maybe I would still be in Espanyol managing him.”
The Spurs boss went on to explain how Fabio Capello played a significant role in keeping Messi at Barcelona.
He said: “I’d started to hear about Messi when I was an Espanyol player – this small guy playing in the Barcelona academy, who had arrived from Argentina when he was 13.
“And then I heard he was very close to signing for Espanyol. But because he was so fantastic in the Joan Gamper against Juventus and Fabio Capello praised him afterwards in the press conference, Barcelona changed their minds. They kept Messi at Barcelona.”
Pochettino also urged his players to enjoy playing against Messi at Wembley rather than worrying about the threat he poses.
“I am not going to try to find a solution against Messi; I think that’s impossible,” Pochettino added. “It’s only to enjoy it. More than worrying you, it needs to excite you.
“I played against Maradona and Ronaldo and, for your ego, it’s a thing that you are going to tell your kids and grandkids. So enjoy it, stay close and try to play in the opposite half; push Leo to play far from your goal. Because if not, it’s terrible.”
Tottenham could do with picking up all three points on Wednesday after losing against Inter Milan in the opening round of group stage fixtures.
The Londoners will travel to PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League later this month.