The former Blaugrana winger, assistant and coach was convinced by the young Argentine after watching him in action, but says signing him was not easy
Barcelona legend Carles Rexach says he needed only five minutes of watching Lionel Messi to decide that he must sign for the Catalan club.
Rexach, a former team-mate of Johan Cruyff and assistant to the Dutchman in the Dream Team era, was working as a scout at Barca in 2000 when a young Messi arrived on the scene and Charly played a pivotal part in his recruitment.
“I was introduced to him by [agent] Josep Maria Minguella,” he told Goal in an exclusive interview. “But when the club called me, I was in Australia, so I asked for reports on the boy until I returned. The opinions were divided; some said he played very well, others said he was too small, even that he was a table football player. It was not clear whether he would join.”
But when Rexach returned, he had little doubt. “We organised a practice match,” he said. “I needed just five minutes to be clear that we had to sign him. He was brilliant and I knew we couldn’t let him get away, even though there were a lot of obstacles in the way.”
The signing was difficult for a number of reasons and it took time for a deal to be closed for a player who has gone on to carve his name into the history of the Catalan club.
“Messi and his family wanted [financial] security,” Rexach said. “The days went by and the deal wasn’t getting done, although it wasn’t an economic issue. We were clear that we wanted to sign him, but because he was a non-European, he couldn’t play in the Spanish league at youth level, so he only played friendlies and there were often problems when we wanted to pick him.
“We found a way for it to work, with a special contract for his father. The club were still not convinced, because there were so many problems to sign a young player, not even a first-team player. They only saw the cons, the difficulty in completing the deal because of the complexity of his contract. But we only saw the pros, his tremendous quality.”
In the end, a deal was agreed and Messi rose through the youth ranks before making his debut for the first team in late 2004, going on to score his first goal at the end of the 2004-05 season and establishing himself as a regular, then the team’s star and later the finest footballer in the club’s history.
However, Rexach believes those experiences helped to make Messi the player he is today.
“It made him very strong mentally,” he said. “He was also very well advised by his family the whole time.”