Imagine the next, Messi joining the Spanish national team in 2004.
But he could have, just before he marked his Under-20 debut with Argentina.
In a recent interview with La Nacion, it was former Argentine assistant Gerardo Salorio who said that Messi’s Under-20 debut was a hastily-arranged fixture, as he was close to pledging allegiance with Spain as a 17-year-old.
Messi – who had celebrated his 17th birthday just five days prior to his first-ever appearance in an Argentina shirt – had also been “courted” by Spain, who were keen to include the forward in their Under-17 World Cup squad the previous year alongside the likes of Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Javi Garcia.
However, the then-AFA (Argentina Football Association) President Julio Grondona and Under-20 coach Hugo Tocalli were convinced to safeguard Messi’s future, thanks to a VHS tape showcasing the youngster’s talents.
Their reports say that unknown was the teenager to Argentina’s authorities, that their first petition to Barcelona requesting his presence in the national team was sent on behalf of “Leonel Mecci” and not “Lionel Messi”. This was in April 2004, and two months later, they were granted permission to have him play for La Albiceleste.
“Tocalli saw the video, he mentioned it to me,” recalled Salorio in the interview with La Nacion. “We took it to Grondona, who with lightning speed realized he was called up to play for Spain Under-17s.”
“He said, ‘We have to do something here. We have to put together a FIFA-registered game.’ We called him first and he accepted right away.”
Eventually, Messi came on in the second half of the game that was hastily put-together against Paraguay, and scored the seventh goal during an 8-0 win. And the rest, as they say, is history.