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.
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.
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’.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.