Rangers almost signed Lionel Messi from Barcelona thanks to Football Manager, nearly ended up with Andres Iniesta, but the Argentine later branded them ‘anti-football’

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Lionel Messi is set to go down in history as the greatest one-club man in history – sorry Jamie Carragher.

But it was nearly scuppered by one one of the most audacious loan bids ever, thanks to the Football Manager obsessive son of Alex McLeish.

Messi is one of the greatest footballers the game has ever seen

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Messi is one of the greatest footballers the game has ever seen

Then at Rangers, McLeish had been riding high, winning a treble in his first season but it was all set to change with numerous stars leaving the club.

Barry Ferguson was the big loss in 2003 – heading to Blackburn Rovers for £7.5million – as the Scottish giants gradually set about attempting to balance the books, which weren’t looking too healthy.

With Ferguson gone, Rangers needed a player, someone with some skill in the final third, a ball-player, and his son Jon – who would later become a scout and agent – had a suggestion.

All ears as he looked to solve his Ibrox issues, McLeish took notes and got to work thank to his well connected assistant Jan Wouters.

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We’ve all been there on Football Manager, haven’t we? We’ve landed ourselves a superstar, told our mates about them, and pushed them as a player our club should sign in real life.

McLeish’s child offered up a name. Lionel Messi.

“My son Jon was into Championship Manager,” he explained to The Big Interview.

“He was constantly giving me names in South America. They come out the sky and say ‘Lionel Messi is going to be the best player in the world’.

Messi’s breakthrough season for Barcelona was in 2004/05

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Messi’s breakthrough season for Barcelona was in 2004/05

“You dismiss it but Rangers were downsizing and we were looking for some quality in midfield.

“Barry Ferguson had gone down to Blackburn so we lost a guy who would have taken the ball in any stadium anywhere in the world. We needed players of that ilk again.

“Jan Wouters phoned Henk ten Cate, who was the assistant of Frank Rijkaard, the ex-Dutch international.

“Jan phoned him and said: ‘Messi?’ We were told no chance.”

McLeish was nearly at the centre of the perfect storm and could have landed Messi at Ibrox

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McLeish was nearly at the centre of the perfect storm and could have landed Messi at Ibrox

It was worth a go right?

And like legendary Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who coached McLeish at Aberdeen, it’s always worth inquiring further and finding out what else you might get.

Fergie landed Eric Cantona when he dared ask Leeds about his availability during a conversation about Denis Irwin.

McLeish and Wouters almost got an even bigger prize – Andres Iniesta, a talented midfielder who was on the first-team fringes.

“[Ten Cate] said ‘we’ve got a young kid, Iniesta, he’s a phenomenal player’, only 18 or 19,” McLeish continued.

Iniest was only just emerging in 2004/05 and even faced both Rangers and Celtic in the Champions League

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Iniest was only just emerging in 2004/05 and even faced both Rangers and Celtic in the Champions League

“We said ‘can he come to Scotland?’

“They said ‘yep I’ll try and make hay at Barcelona and get him over to you. He needs to get some action’.

“By the Monday, Iniesta was called into the team and he played a stormer.

“Ten Cate came back and Jan asked him ‘what about the wee man? Are we getting him?’”

“Ten Cate sighed and said we had no chance.”

Iniesta and Messi went on to form one of the greatest club sides in the history of football at the Camp Nou

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Iniesta and Messi went on to form one of the greatest club sides in the history of football at the Camp Nou

Having taken a young Mikel Arteta from Barcelona in 2002, it hadn’t been the wildest long shot either. The Spaniard was developing nicely before his eventual move Everton where he became a household name and ultimately joined Arsenal.

While in 2000, the Scottish side snapped up Dutch international Ronald de Boer from the Catalan giants.

Messi’s story with Rangers – and Scottish football – doesn’t end there though.

Just three years later, the Argentine sensation would face the Gers in the Champions League – and he HATED every minute.

Messi would make eight appearances and score once in 2004/05

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Messi would make eight appearances and score once in 2004/05

On October 23, 2007, a Barcelona side, which as well as Messi, included Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Xavi, and Iniesta, travelled to Ibrox in the Champions League.

A superb defensive display saw Rangers claim a 0-0 draw with Sasa Papac doing his best to nullify Messi.

“It’s incredible. Rangers didn’t want to play football. Right from the start they went for anti-football and I’m left with a bitter taste in the mouth at not having been able to win the match because we had a decent number of chances. All we lacked was the finish.

Papac makes Messi think again on the touchline at Ibrox

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Papac makes Messi think again on the touchline at Ibrox

“It’s a real pain playing against teams like that and it’s very hard too. It’ll be different at the Camp Nou.”

He was right. It was. A 2-0 win for Barcelona and Messi grabbed a goal and an assist – never make him angry.





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