Why Lionel Messi missed the chance to play 2003 Youth World Cup in UAE

The legend made his Argentina youth team debut in 2004 due to delays by the country's football association

By Rituraj Borkakoty in Doha

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Lionel Messi celebrates after winning the 2005 Fifa Under 20 World Cup with Argentina in the Netherlands. -- AFP file
Lionel Messi celebrates after winning the 2005 Fifa Under 20 World Cup with Argentina in the Netherlands. -- AFP file

Published: Sun 18 Dec 2022, 9:50 AM

Last updated: Sun 18 Dec 2022, 10:13 AM

Lionel Messi gets his chance to end his international career by guiding Argentina to their third World Cup title against France at the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Qatar on Sunday.

The 35-year-old talisman, who won the 2005 Under 20 World Cup, has suffered countless heartbreaks with Argentina at the senior level.

Regardless of Sunday’s result, Messi will still go down as one of the greatest players of all time.

But there was a time when the Spanish football federation was plotting a move to snatch Messi from Argentina.

Born with a growth hormone deficiency, Messi needed expensive treatment to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional footballer.

Despite knocking on several doors in some of Argentina’s biggest clubs, Jorge, Messi’s father, found no support to help his prodigiously talented son.

A frustrated Jorge took his young son to Football Club Barcelona in Spain whose youth coaches were stunned by his talent.

The Barca coaches eventually convinced the club’s management to sign up the wonderkid and bear the cost of his treatment.

When Messi was beginning to show his wondrous talent for Barcelona’s youth team, the Spanish federation offered him a chance to play for the Spain junior team.

Messi refused as it was always his dream to play for Argentina.

But remarkably, there was no one in Argentina that had heard of his exploits in Spain.

Eventually, an official from the Argentina FA heard the Messi story and he informed the Argentina national youth coach about ‘a special talent’.

The coach ordered the official to make a move before Spain could convince him to play for them.

Argentine journalist Esteban Godoy Vallejos revealed the incredible story of how the Argentine FA finally found Messi.

“The coach asked this official to find Messi. But he didn’t have the telephone number of Messi’s family. So he went to a cyber café and asked for a phone directory for Rosario where Messi was born,” Vallejos told this reporter.

“He took the page from the phone directory, the page containing the phone numbers of all people with the Messi surname in Rosario.

“He made several phone calls to find the right Messi. Eventually, he found Messi’s uncle.

“But the official asked for Leonardo Messi because for some reason, he thought Leonardo was Leo’s name, not Lionel.

“The uncle realised that this man was asking about Lionel, his nephew. He gave him the phone number of Messi’s father in Barcelona.”

The Argentina FA official heaved a huge sigh of relief after he called Messi’s father to ask him if his son would play for Argentina’s youth team.

“Of course. Messi’s father told him that ‘Leo had been waiting for this call from Argentina’. He always wanted to play for Argentina,” Vallejos said.

So Messi’s career with Argentina began with a phone call from Buenos Aires to Barcelona.

But Vallejos says Messi would have been in the 2003 Argentina Under 20 World Cup team in the UAE if the country’s football association had called him earlier.

“The Under 20 World Cup was played in 2003. It was in the UAE. But our federation made that call to Messi’s father very late. Otherwise, he would have played in that tournament in the UAE,” Vallejos said.

Messi went on to make his Argentina youth team debut in 2004 before winning the 2005 Under 20 World Cup in the Netherlands.


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