What Happened To 'The Israeli Messi' Tipped For Stardom

The new 'Lionel Messi' tag is thrown around very often and one of the players to have received the moniker was Israeli winger Gai Assulin.

A Barcelona B stand-out under Pep Guardiola, alongside the likes of Nolito and Marc Bartra, it was thought that Assulin would go on to achieve great things in the game.

Football Manager wonderkids who flopped:

A lightning quick winger with supreme dribbling ability, he was tipped to make a big impact in the Blaugrana first-team when Guardiola was given the first-team reins.

But he only went on to make a single appearance in the Copa Del Rey for Barca and eventually left by mutual consent in 2010.

Image: PA
Image: PA

The club wanted to retain him and offered him a three-year contract, but Assulin elected to move on after growing frustrated with the lack of game-time he received.

Upon the advice of his former colleague Yaya Toure, a 19-year old Assulin joined Manchester City on a two-and-a-half year deal and hoped his fortunes would change.

Sadly, they didn't. He was stuck in the reserves and never got a first-team opportunity under Roberto Mancini, who, according to Assulin, would show favouritism to his two sons - both in the academy set-up.

Image: PA
Image: PA

"The issues were very clear - it was the manager, Mancini," he said in an interview with ITV.

"He didn't give anyone a chance, he didn't care about any young players, especially me.

"I didn't even do the pre-season, when it was a good time to give someone a chance and see if they do well [or] if they are not doing well.

"But I didn't get a chance, which was frustrating. It was a shame as I always felt good when I trained with the first team, but sometimes he chose his own sons over other players and I don't think it was fair.

"People always ask me why I didn't get a chance and it's obvious that the manager was the problem. I loved playing there, I loved the city and I wish I had a chance there. Brian Marwood and Garry Cook loved me and really wanted me to stay, but Mancini didn't and that was the problem."

Assulin was released without playing a first-team game, with his only minutes coming in short-term loan spell with Brighton & Hove Albion.

Image: PA
Image: PA

From then on, he returned to Spain with extremely brief spells with the likes of Racing Santander, Granada, Hercules (loan) and RCD Mallorca and though he featured more regularly, things didn't exactly improve and he didn't last long at any of the clubs.

Having failed to secure a contract with Rangers in October 2015, Israel's youngest ever debutant returned to his homeland with Hapoel Tel Aviv, before having another crack in Catalonia when he moved to Spanish third tier side CE Sabadell in August 2016.

Now 26, Assulin's contract was terminated last month and he is now on the hunt for another club.

Speaking to ITV in 2016, he said the Messi comparison had a negative effect on him.

"When they compare you with someone who is the greatest player in history they expect so much that when you go on the pitch it can be hard for you," he admitted.

"So I don't think it's a good comparison. I think, personally, it hurt me a little bit in the first place.

"It's football, and the media like to compare players all the time. I am proud that people compared me to someone like Messi but I think to compare me every week was unfair."

Josh Lawless

Josh is a writer who specialises in football and wrestling. He has been published by Curzon Ashton FC, Late Tackle, Manchester City FC, The Mirror, Read Man City and Manchester Evening News. He provides coverage of professional wrestling and has interviewed some of the biggest names in the field - including the first UK interview with The Hardy Boyz after their return to WWE. He loves a Meatball Marinara from Subway on a Friday.

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