The details of the parallel contract and an unknown injury: the secrets of Lionel Messi’s first trip to Barcelona

The first photo of Lionel Messi in Barcelona: it was in a room at the Hotel Plaza while he was testing at the club

Sunday September 17, 2000. Lionel Andres Messi Walk the corridors of the Ezeiza International Airport. He is on his way to fulfilling his dream of playing for a club in Europe, but he still has a knot in his stomach from the imminent sensation of traveling by plane for the second time in his life (the first had been to play a youth tournament with Newell’s, in Peru). In fact, the turbulence causes dizziness and vomiting. At just 13 years old, he prepares his mind to take a test at Barcelona in Spain. Fabian Soldinihis representative, holds three plane tickets in his hand because whoever flies is Jorge, Pope. The suitcases are not very big and carry more doubts than certainties about Leo’s future. They present the passports they had to scramble out of a week earlier, go through customs and board the plane. The teenager tightens his belt for what will be the greatest adventure of his life.

Lionel had already had his initiation in the Abanderado Grandoli club and inflated nets in Newell’s children’s. He was part of a Category 87 that was recognized for his good game and a huge number of professional soccer projects. One of the first to keep an eye on him was the former player leper and the Argentine national team Fabian Basualdowho was beginning to experiment in the world of representation at the hands of the already renowned agent Richard Schlieper. At the same time, a Soldini who had just received his coaching job joined a business group that hired him as a scout in the leagues around Rosario (it was there that he caught Nacho Scocco in the Santa Fe town of Hughes).

who promoted the Flea before Soldini was his uncle Claudio Biancucchi (husband of Celia’s sister, Leo’s mother). As he represented his son Maximiliano, a Category 84 striker who was released in San Lorenzo and ended up making a career in Paraguayan and Brazilian soccer, he traced the connection. “You take good care of the boys, why don’t you come see my nephew, who is a crack?”, caught his attention. The representative went to the Newell’s campus in Bella Vista to observe it in action.

It was love at first sight: Soldini was enthralled. In dialogue with Infobaedescribes: “I went to see a local First Division match and I arrived earlier to follow it. I see a dwarf who makes pin, bread, pum and sends it to save. When I hear that someone says that I discovered Messi, I deny it. Even my grandmother with cataracts realized that this kid was a phenomenon.

Not too many minutes passed between the wonders he saw from Leo on the court until he arranged a meeting with George Messi. They got together the following Saturday to take advantage of his free time at the Acindar metallurgical company and his father asked him two questions: first, that neither the social work nor Newell’s wanted to continue paying for the treatment for growth hormones that cost $960 per month; second, that the economic situation of the country did not give for more and saw with good eyes settling abroad. Only a few months ago, a youth squad leper Category 88 had been captured and signed by Milan from Italy: Leandro Depetris was the one who motivated Messi’s premature departure to Europe.

Leo Messi during his beginnings in the inferiors of Newell's
Leo Messi during his beginnings in the inferiors of Newell’s

With the permission of the business group that supported him, Soldini gave him the okay to cover the costs of Leo’s treatment on the condition that he break his ties with the people who represented him up until then so as not to have any inconveniences in the future. Jorge agreed and clarified that he would just sign a new representation contract when they were installed in Europe. The budding agent was taking his first steps in that world and many cut off his phone when he reported on the age of the Rosario phenomenon he was sponsoring. John Matthewan Argentine who lived in Brazil and had direct contact with Jose Maria MinguellaBarça’s transfer adviser, lent him an ear.

The context in which substantial progress was made with the signing of Messi for Barcelona is almost unlikely. John Matthew had interference in the representation of Philip Scolaricoach of Palmeiras in Brazil who was about to play the final of the Libertadores against Boca in Buenos Aires. “Fabián, I’m going there so you can tell me good things about this boy.” When they met at the São Paulo team’s team hotel before the first leg match at La Bombonera, he led him to the room Philippao so that he could tell the very DT of the virtues and defects of the rival led by charles bianchi. was condition sine qua non. Soldini went from trying to convince him to take Leo to Barcelona to acting as a spy for Palmeiras. And it was not bad: it was 2-2 in La Boca.

Juan, believe me, he is the new Diego”, Soldini wielded without hesitation to Mateo, who was overjoyed by the positive result of a Palmeiras that would bite the dust against Boca in San Pablo, by penalty shootout, a week later. The next day, he called Minguella by phone, who had an important history in the field of signings blaugranas: after Maradona closed the Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov and the brazilians Romario and Rivaldoto name a few heavy names.

“How old are you? 12? Are they trafficking children?, It was the first response from the Catalan scout who was dealing with the loss of the Portuguese figure (to Real Madrid), closed the Dutch Marc Overmars and wrote down in a folder to keep track of the Argentines Robert Bonano Y Xavier Saviolawhich would arrive in the following season.

Weeks, months passed, until we had news from Spain again. Soldini and Jorge Messi did not leave a nail unbitten while watching countless youth games (including Leo’s) and in that time forged a great friendship. At Newell’s they noticed that something could happen regarding the fate of the great jewel of the quarry. In reality, it was his teammates and coaches who became seriously concerned, as officials turned a deaf ear to pleas for coverage of his treatment. It was only at the end of August, on the closing of the European transfer market, that Minguella raised his thumb for the skilled left-hander to travel to Barcelona.

Lionel Messi boy Barcelona
A teenager Leo Messi taking his first steps at Barça

Leo, Jorge and Soldini went from the Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport directly to the office of Minguella, who was absent that day. Who received them at 10 in the morning was Txiki Beguiristain, Barça’s emblematic sports director who has been working for Manchester City for years. At that time he was only recognized for his steps as a footballer in Real Sociedad and the Spanish team, in addition to the Catalan club. Joaquim Rifecoordinator of The farmhouseintroduced himself and informed them that Lionel had to report to the Ciudad Deportiva that same afternoon for training. To the nerves for the test, to Messi’s physique was added the jet lag yy the discomfort caused by the flight. There was no other option but to put on the boots and jump onto the field.

Leo changed with a litter of footballers who had Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, Victor Olmo and Toni Calvo. Suddenly, one of the coaches who would plan the practice came out of the locker room with a worried face and approached the place where Soldini and Jorge were waiting: “He will not be able to play, he is injured. I saw him wrap an ankle.” Transitioning the feeling of alarm to calm, Lionel’s tutors explained to the coach that it was customary for him to bandage himself before training and playing games.

FabiI hope it’s good because you’ll never come in here again, eh”, was Juan Mateo’s warning to Soldini, when he saw that Piqué was more than a head above the little Argentine.I don’t know how the others play, but I know how this one plays. Stay calm and look at it.”was his confident reply. From a tribune they watched how Leo played little games for several minutes without the ball falling off him in what was the first dictated exercise. It was logical: a VHS had already arrived in Spain some time ago in which Rosario’s promise was juggling with an orange. The second job was a one on one with definition. Messi took the first ball, left his marker sitting and defined. Juan Mateo ejected himself from his chair and exclaimed: “This is to see it from the field.” They asked permission to enter and were located in the field. At that precise moment, the emissary was convinced to dismiss the chance of approaching a Brazilian youth who was also in the folder.

The sensations after the first session were positive. Jorge settled with Lionel in room 546 of the Hotel Plaza, while Soldini stayed in a motel because Barcelona refused to cover the costs of his stay. From September 17 to October 3, the trio repeated the same routine: subway ride, training and return. Messi gave a chair in each practice, but no one in charge of Barcelona approached to provide certainties about his future. Underneath they heard some say “He is a foosball player (indoor soccer)”. Soldini says that Leo scored 5 goals in training after his agent challenged him to that record in exchange for a sports outfit that he loved (from the brand that historically sponsored Maradona).

Lionel Messi boy Barcelona
Before being signed by Barcelona, ​​the Messi family and their representative spent moments of anxiety

“Did you bring this kid? How is it possible that these animals have not told you anything yet? It is the closest thing I saw to Diego”, was the hopeful comment from Migueli, a former Barcelona defender who had shared a squad with Maradona. Impatience took over the Argentine contingent because in addition to dilating the Leo definition, he missed many classes at school. In his last days of stay, Carles Rexach (Barça technical secretary who had just returned from seeing players at the Sydney Olympics) had his eye on him. He spent 10 minutes with his eyes fixed on Messi and was an eyewitness to a goal in which he left four rivals on the road before hitting the goalkeeper. He left without contacting Soldini and Jorge. “This is an asshole! See what Leo does, he leaves and doesn’t say anything to us?”was the thought and release of both, and prelude to packing the bags to return to Argentina.

Leo went back to school and rejoined the youth squad at Newell’s, where he caught pneumonia to justify his absence. He passed October and November without any news. Jorge was obfuscated: “That’s it, let’s go somewhere else”. Minguella communicated to appease the spirits and inform that they would give an answer shortly. Martín Montero, owner of the company where Soldini worked, traveled to Spain to rush the Barcelona manager and give him the ultimatum: “I have to return to Argentina with some guarantee because we lose the family”. Minguella assured him that he would buy the economic rights for him to be projected in the Catalan club’s quarry.

This was the contract parallel to that of the famous napkin that Rexach signed for Horacio Gaggioli (from Rosario who officiated as the player’s representative at that meeting) in the cafeteria of the Pompeia Tennis Club in Barcelona on December 14, 2000. “In the presence of Messrs. Minguella and Horacio, Carles Rexach, technical secretary of FC Barcelona, ​​undertakes under his responsibility and despite some opinions to the contrary, to sign the player Lionel Messi as long as we maintain the agreed amounts”, prayed the disposable paper that Gaggioli treasures. Beforehand, Minguella had offered Montero a salary of $4,000 per month, plus a car and an apartment..

On February 1, 2001, the entire Messi family traveled (Jorge and Leo were joined by Celia and the brothers Rodrigo, Matías and María Sol) with Soldini and Juan Mateo. The signing of Lionel’s first contract with Barcelona was not even held in the institution’s offices: it was directly in a hotel located a few blocks away. The pre-agreed conditions with Minguella would be transferred directly to Barça. Salary, accommodation and vehicle. It remained to set a sum to be divided between the two parties that mediated and the footballer. Jorge whispered to Soldini if ​​he agreed to demand a sum of 600 thousand dollars when Lionel turned 50 games in Barcelona’s first. Soldini, acknowledging his lack of experience at the time, recommended that Minguella write down the amount that Barcelona would pay to the three interested parties. The figure of 6 million dollars was stipulated to be divided into three.

Lionel Messi - Barcelona
The Messi family in 2003, a year before Leo debuted in Barcelona (Photo by Marcelo Boeri/El Grafico/Getty Images) (El Grafico/)

Jorge was the one who was always by Leo’s side since his final arrival in Barcelona. They lived in an apartment two blocks from the club’s sports field, so he walked to and from training and also to school. Soldini went and came back several times. Celia and the brothers could not stand it and returned to her native Rosario a few months later. The story that not many know is that three months after signing his first contract, Messi suffered a broken fibula that shattered his permanence and continuity at Barça. Rehabilitation with the entity’s medical department culéwho had already taken charge of her hormonal treatment, was optimal. Leo came back better than ever.

The story between the Messi and their representative did not have a happy ending. The pink color faded as Leo burned stages in the quarry blaugrana until its official premiere in October 2004. “Leo trusted me with everything, even things that you don’t trust your father because of the shame that he is your father. With Jorge it was all 10 points until he suggested I continue in a way that I didn’t like. It was a shot to the heart”, anticipates Soldini. The agent traveled from Rosario to Barcelona again in December and went to the Argentine restaurant The roadwhere they dined with Jorge, Leo and Rodrigo, who a couple of years earlier had made his last attempts to be a professional footballer at the Catholic University and Bulgarian football, promoted by his younger brother’s representative.

The family’s decision was to try to separate from Minguella, who had become fully involved in Barcelona politics (he ran as a candidate for president in the elections won by Joan Laporta in June 2003 and finished fifth among six applicants). And they intended to deal from then on only with Soldini and not with the rest of the members of the business group (Martín Montero, owner of the representation company, and the lawyer Iván Hernández, who certified each legal instance). “Jorge told me that Leo adored me and wanted to deal only with me, but I couldn’t turn my back on other people. I asked Leo if he agreed with that decision and he said yes. I got up and left. It may be that today I regret my reaction a little, I could have looked for a return to the subject, although I don’t know if it would have worked or not. Leo told me to stay calm, that he was going to fix everything, ”he details. With the bags in tow, believing that after dinner he was going to stay in the Messi apartment, he called Horacio Gaggioli to provide him with a roof that night after his abrupt departure.

Nacho Oviedo, Geralnik, Infantino and Soldini
Fabián Soldini (on the right), together with the youth of the Under 20 team Tiago Geralnik and Gino Infantino, plus his collaborator Ignacio Oviedo

That was the break in the relationship between Messi and Soldini. The agent kept in touch with Leo for a few months and they even exchanged messages during the 2005 South American Championship in Colombia, his first official competition in the Argentine national team jersey. Until at a certain point Lionel cut the rope: “Between my dad and you, I have to stay with my dad”. Today, Soldini still maintains a legal conflict with the Messi for that first signed contract.

Soldini proudly lived every sporting achievement of Leo, although with the pain of not having been able to accompany him as in his beginnings. A decade later he decided to send her a message to share a coffee in Barcelona. They exchanged several WhatsApp in which they remembered old anecdotes and confessed to missing each other. In August 2015, Leo invited him to see a match to the Camp Nou and then to stay at his house. They stayed awake watching a match between Newell’s and Colón until the early hours of the morning in Barcelona. He even offered to stay the next day to enjoy the company of Neymar, Javier Mascherano and the Kun Omen. They melted into a hug and agreed to meet again at Christmas, after the Club World Cup in which Barcelona would defeat River in Japan in the final. But Messi no longer answered the messages.

“After what we lived with Leoit hurts me that everything has ended like this, but it is a chapter that I have already closed”, concludes Soldini, who before taking a last sip of coffee takes a deep breath with a lost look and prolonged pain due to “what would have happened if… ”.


The confessions of a former teammate of Messi who now works in Barcelona: “Leo was sick, obsessed with winning everything”

“Do you want to meet a Barcelona player?”: the story behind the only photo of Lionel Messi with the Newell’s shirt in his stadium

“The little bag of illusion”: the touching anecdote of Messi at the age of 11 in a World Cup