'Prime' Former Barcelona Player Recalls How Lionel Messi Tormented Him When He Tried To Mark Him For First Time
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Juliano Belletti has revealed that Andres Iniesta warned him of the phenomenal talents of a teenage Lionel Messi before he was tasked with man-marking the Barcelona legend.
The 45-year-old former defender was signed by Barcelona from Villarreal in 2004 and secured his place as first-choice right-back for the La Liga outfit.
Despite being in his “prime,” Belletti found himself being tormented by a young Messi in a Barcelona training session.
Messi signed his first professional contract with Barcelona in 2004 after rising through the ranks at the club’s famed La Masia academy.
The 34-year-old Argentine forward was invited to training sessions with the first team, with former Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard giving Messi his senior debut.
During one training session, Belletti recalled how Messi was unstoppable and how he had “already [been] beaten” in a one-on-one situation even before he tried to tackle him.
“When I first trained against Messi, I had never heard of him,” he told Goal.
“Iniesta came and asked me if I knew who Messi was and Iniesta warned me to be careful because he is good.
“He said ‘be careful’ to me during the best time of my career. I was in my prime! But when he received the ball in training, he didn’t care who he was playing against. It just happened to be me that time.
“The one-v-one, when I was even thinking about trying to tackle him, I found he had already beaten me. It was simply like that... I tried to kick him but I couldn’t. I couldn’t get him.
“It was definitely not a normal situation to see a player that good come from the academy and go straight into our team.”
Messi achieved incredible success during his remarkable spell at the Camp Nou and lifted a club-record 35 trophies with Barcelona.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar won 10 La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and seven Copa del Reys before his shock exit last summer.
Belletti, who left the Camp Nou in 2007 for Chelsea, has backed former club teammate Xavi to succeed as manager of Barcelona.
“We know how important Messi was for that club,” he added.
“He is a player who raised the level and improved things for 14 years. It feels almost impossible to achieve this in football.
“But the club must look ahead with Xavi, president Joan Laporta and their young guys.
“Xavi, as a player, showed the world that he was different, and I think it will be the same for him as a manager.
“He is the man who the club needs at this very moment. I think Xavi and Laporta are the two right people for the moment.”
Featured Image Credit: PA
Topics: Lionel Messi, Barcelona, Spain, La Liga, Football