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What happened to the five players on the bench with Lionel Messi for his Barcelona debut

Ryan Smart

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What happened to the five players on the bench with Lionel Messi for his Barcelona debut

The date of October 16, 2004 has a special place in the footballing history books as the day on which Lionel Andres Messi made his competitive debut for Barcelona.

The 17-year-old had burst onto the scene in the previous November, coming off the bench during a friendly match against Jose Mourinho's Porto.

The Argentinian certainly made an impression on Mourinho, who tried to sign him when he took over as Chelsea manager in the summer of 2004.

In an alternate universe, Messi might have made the move to Stamford Bridge. He hadn't played for the first team since the Porto friendly, despite continuing to impress for the B team and in first team training.

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Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzio even claimed that Messi considered leaving Camp Nou - but decided to stay put.

His patience was rewarded with a call-up to the first team again for a La Liga fixture against Espanyol in October 2004.

He took his place on the bench alongside Andres Iniesta. While they would become two of football's most iconic players, all they had in common at the time was being the subjects of a double loan swoop by Alex McLeish and Rangers.

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Barca won 1-0 that night, with Iniesta replacing Samuel Eto'o and Messi taking goalscorer Deco's place.

But what happened to the five unused substitutes named by manager Frank Rijkaard?

Ruben Martinez (Goalkeeper)

La Masia graduate Ruben Martinez was the substitute goalkeeper.

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The 23-year-old was handed the role of third-choice goalkeeper at the beginning of the 2004/05 season, having been a regular in the club's C and B teams.

He had not made his senior debut at the time of the Espanyol clash, but would be called into action during a match at Valencia in December after Victor Valdes was sent off.

After one more appearance in La Liga that season, Ruben spent three years on the fringes of the squad and out on loan before joining third tier side Cartagena in 2008.

He then became a Spanish football journeyman, making over 150 La Liga appearances for seven different clubs. Most recently, he had a one-season stint with Cypriot side AEK Lamaca.

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Carlos Pena (Defender)

Left-back Carlos Pena was another graduate of the La Masia system, but never made a senior appearance for Barcelona.

He was restricted to playing for the B team until 2006, when he joined Albacete.

Most of Pena's career saw him play regularly in Segunda Division - the second tier of Spanish football - although he had a spell in La Liga between 2012 and 2014 with Rayo Vallecano.

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He ended his career in the Indian Premier League with Goa, before retiring at the age of 36 in 2020. He is now the head coach of Thai top division side Ratchaburi.

Damia (Defender)

Unlike the two players above, Damia was signed by Barcelona at the age of 22 in 2004, and played regularly for their B team.

He made his Barca debut on October 30 - two weeks after the win over Espanyol - and went on to make nine appearances for Frank Rijkaard's side, earning him a La Liga winners' medal.

He subsequently had spells in La Liga with Real Betis and Osasuna. English football fans, meanwhile, might remember him for an unsuccessful two-year spell at Middlesbrough between 2014 and 2016.

Damia was signed by compatriot Aitor Karanka, but made just seven competitive appearances for Boro, and the 34-year-old retired from football upon his exit in 2016.

Fernando Navarro (Defender)

Fernando Navarro (right) in action for Sevilla (Credit: Getty)
Fernando Navarro (right) in action for Sevilla (Credit: Getty)

Undoubtedly the most successful of this short list, Fernando Navarro made 21 appearances for Barca between 2001 and 2006, having graduated from La Masia.

But it was an eight-year spell at Sevilla that saw him achieve major success.

The left-back made over 200 La Liga appearances across seven seasons, helped the club to win two Europa League titles, and was part of the Spain squad that won Euro 2008.

He had a three-year spell with Deportivo La Coruna to close out his career, and he retired at the age of 36 in 2018 after the club suffered relegation to the second tier of Spanish football.

Cristian Hidalgo (Midfielder)

The fifth and final unused substitute against Espanyol, Cristian Hidalgo was another La Masia graduate named on the bench that night.

He never made a senior appearance for Barca, but did play three years in La Liga with Deportivo between 2006 and 2009.

After a spell with Hercules - whom he helped to promotion to La Liga - Hidalgo had a short stint at Elche before embarking on a tour of European football.

That tour took him to clubs in Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria and Israel, before he joined Indian Super League side Chennaiyin.

His most recent recorded club is Andorran side FC Ordino, while he has also played in Morocco and Romania. Some journey.

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Featured Image Credit: Marca / Getty

Topics: Barcelona, La Liga, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Espanyol

Ryan Smart
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