Leo Messi is undoubtedly one of the best players to grace the game, but his physical attributes shocked opponents who faced him for the first time, especially before he became a world star.
Esteban Granero revealed a conversation he had with Gerard Pique before an Under-16’s competition in which he played against Messi for the first time. He will never forget that ‘Clasico’.
Currently at Espanyol but a former Real Madrid academy (‘La Fabrica’, in Spanish) product, Granero belongs to the same generation of footballers as both Messi and Pique. The midfielder recalled his first clashes with Messi with the day he met the Argentine etched into his memory.
‘I saw Piqué at the hotel. Back then we used to beat them every time, and Piqué saw me and grabbed me: « This year we’ll win ». And I said: « No f***ing way ». « Yes », he said, « we have this new guy and he’s fantastic ». « Who? » I asked. « That one over there ». He pointed to the pool and I saw a small kid, very small. Alone, sitting by the pool with his feet in the water, self-absorbed. Piqué is a prankster, he has always been, and I thought he was messing with me. In fact, what I thought was: « He’s messing with me and he’s messing with his own team mate ». That was the first time I saw Messi’, Granero told ‘El Pais’.
Finally, Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 3-0 and Granero’s memory is still intact: ‘He crushed us. They won 3-0. From kick-off or a free-kick he would stand very close to get the short pass, and then he just kept the ball to himself. He was spectacular. Very short and strong as a rock. But the craziest thing was how he carried the ball. Stuck to his foot, it was impossible to take it away. Shocking, it was scary to think about what he could become. And 15 years later I see him on the pitch and I think: « F***, he’s still here ».
The midfielder’s brother predicted Messi’s projection years before his rise to prominence. And it seems he was not wrong… ‘When he saw him at that tournament my brother told me he was going to be the best player in the world. It was impossible not to think so. Look, he is the first rival: he was at Real Madrid and now he is at Espanyol. But it is a pleasure to watch him play. Against giants you fight with everything and when it’s over you applaud them. My generation has gone through an unrepeatable period with him and Ronaldo’.