Barcelona hero Juliano Belletti has revealed that Lionel Messi was already so good as a teenager that he couldn’t even land a kick on the Argentine attacker.
In 2004, Belletti was at the peak of his powers and had just arrived at Camp Nou after a successful spell at Villarreal.
Messi, by contrast, was just starting to receive invites to train with the senior squad and Belletti still remembers the first time he shared a pitch with the boy who would go on to win seven Ballons d’Or.
“When I first trained against Messi, I had never heard of him,” Belletti told GOAL. “[Andres] Iniesta came and asked me if I knew who Messi was and Iniesta warned me to be careful because he is good.
“He said ‘be careful’ to me during the best time of my career. I was in my prime! But when he received the ball in training, he didn’t care who he was playing against. It just happened to be me that time.
“The one-v-one, when I was even thinking about trying to tackle him, I found he had already beaten me. It was simply like that… I tried to kick him but I couldn’t. I couldn’t get him.
“It was definitely not a normal situation to see a player that good come from the academy and go straight into our team.”
As the man who scored the winner in the 2006 Champions League final win over Arsenal, Belletti unsurprisingly retains a strong bond with Barcelona.
He also played alongside Xavi, who recently returned to Camp Nou as coach, and the Brazilian has the utmost faith in his former team-mate’s ability to help the Blaugrana recover from the financial and institutional issues which led to Messi sensationally leaving Catalunya last summer for Paris Saint-Germain.
“We know how important Messi was for that club,” Belletti added. “He is a player who raised the level and improved things for 14 years. It feels almost impossible to achieve this in football.
“But the club must look ahead with Xavi, president Joan Laporta and their young guys.
“Xavi, as a player, showed the world that he was different, and I think it will be the same for him as a manager.
“He is the man who the club needs at this very moment. I think Xavi and Laporta are the two right people for the moment.”
Belletti is taking his first steps towards hopefully becoming a head coach in Europe after a recent stint as an assistant at Cruzeiro.
Indeed, as well as recently visiting Barcelona as a part of a learning expedition, the former full-back has also met with officials and old friends at Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Leicester City in recent weeks and months.
“My goal is to come back to Europe and work here,” the World Cup winner told GOAL during the English leg of his European tour.
“[Arsenal’s sporting director] Edu Gaspar told me that it is very rare to find players who were involved at such a high level who still want to get involved in this way.”
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